GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the pandemic drags on, assaults on doctors, nurses and other health care workers while they’re trying to give care have jumped, Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health says.

“Our front-line nurses and physicians and respiratory therapists bear the brunt of being spit at, kicked, hit, verbally assaulted and threatened and it is so disheartening to see,” Spectrum Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joshua Kooistra said.

Kooistra said it’s the new reality inside hospitals: Medical workers have gone from heroes to the enemy within a matter of months.

Pre-pandemic, Spectrum Health saw about 100 assaults reported per month. That number has more than tripled and now averages around 350 incidents reported per month.

It has gotten so bad that Spectrum has given employees safety alert buttons to wear to alert security if they need help.

“I think all of the issues around vaccines, masking, social distancing, some of the restrictions that have been put in place certainly are polarizing from a societal standpoint and people have very strong views on one side or the other and I think health care workers sometimes bear the brunt of these views,” Kooistra said.

In addition to patients upset over mask mandates and other virus mitigation protocols, the pandemic has caused an uptick in mental illness and substance abuse.

Spectrum is not alone. Hospitals across West Michigan and the country are seeing the same.

At the same time, staffing shortages are causing long shifts and limited time off.

“It’s super challenging because unlike the airline industry where you can put someone on a no-fly list, we as a health care team have a responsibility to provide care to our community,” Kooistra said. “Our goal is still the same and that’s to get you well. Have some grace with us.”

Hospitals are hoping that the community support they saw at the beginning of the pandemic comes back soon.