OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – This week, the online publication The Frontier published an article accusing Gov. Kevin Stitt of complaining to hospital officials about interviews with media outlets on COVID-19.
“Hospital leaders definitely feel the frustration from the governor,” Frontier Journalist Ben Felder told KFOR. “And say, ‘We sometimes feel pressured when we feel like we are going to speak out to a media outlet.'”
The Governor’s Office tells KFOR that’s not true, that the governor was frustrated because he was being told different information in news reports then what he was being told, something they say has improved in recent weeks.
“What is the accurate information,” Governor Stitt’s Chief of Communication Charlie Hannema asked. “Why am I hearing something differently from you guys directly, my team or the [Oklahoma State] Health Department that the public isn’t hearing.”
In his piece for The Frontier, Felder says Stitt has voiced his concern to multiple hospitals. In one call between Stitt and President of Mercy Hospital Jim Gebhart, Stitt allegedly said the “fear mongering” needed to stop or it could force him to ban elective surgeries.
“Some hospital leaders have, maybe, not taken it as a threat, but taken it as a cautionary warning,” Felder told KFOR. “That the Governor is saying the only lever I have left to pull is to ban elective surgeries.”
The Governor’s Office says that is not the case. Stopping elective surgeries was just one thing they considered to increase capacity, but that’s now off the table because doctors told them it was a bad idea.
“There was never a threat of, ‘We’re going to knock out your elective surgeries to punish you for talking to the media’ or ‘for saying the situation is one way or another,'” Hannema said.
KFOR did reach out to Mercy Hospital to ask about the article and we were sent the following statement:
“Governor Stitt did not call the president of Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City to discuss frustration about Mercy physicians appearing in news reports. We have been in frequent conversation with state and federal leaders since the pandemic began in the spring. We are also in constant communication with hospitals across the state as we all work together to manage bed availability and create capacity for people who need to access health care. We believe that everyone is doing what they think is best for Oklahomans. Mercy is singularly focused on doing what is best for our patients, finding relief for our overwhelmed co-workers, and educating our community on preventing the spread of COVID-19 so we can reduce the strain on all Oklahoma hospitals.”MERCY HOSPITAL
KFOR also reached out to Oklahoma State Medical Association President Dr. George Monks, who was also quoted in the article. He sent KFOR the following statement:
“Collectively, the members of the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition represent the healthcare professionals that are putting their lives on the line to save others. We have to ensure those voices are heard by state’s leaders. To accomplish this, we developed a letter that included the concerns we were hearing and offered solutions that could help lessen the projected number of COVID positive Oklahomans. We have been pleased to see that several of the suggestions we’ve made have been implemented, and will continue to work with the Governor, Sec. of Health and Health Commissioner to find other solutions to abate this crisis.
In regard to the interviews by health care professionals, physicians, nurses and other hospital workers are the ones on the front lines of the battle against COVID. They are the ones seeing the death and destruction this disease is causing.
We think it is essential that the public continues to hear from these frontline workers and hopefully understand the impact their individual behaviors can have on their community’s health care provider.”DR. GEORGE MONKS
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