The Perfect Enemy | COVID report release leads to Sarasota hospital workers receiving threats - Sarasota Herald-Tribune
February 22, 2024

COVID report release leads to Sarasota hospital workers receiving threats – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

COVID report release leads to Sarasota hospital workers receiving threats  Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Criticism of Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and over a recent report on its pandemic performance has escalated to voicemail and online threats against doctors and hospital staff, according to the hospital and Sarasota Police.

Hospital officials said Thursday they had asked police to investigate two death threats made against doctors at Sarasota Memorial in a COVID-19 forum on the multi-platform messaging service “Telegram.”

Sarasota Police Officer Jessica Matias could not locate the forum host online and documented the attempt in an incident report.

A Sarasota Memorial Hospital spokesperson said that the hospital has received several threats via electronic media and voicemail.

One voicemail threat left for an unnamed patient advocate suggested that hospital staff may be in for a fate similar to that subjects in the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, followed by a threat that some of those trials ended by hanging or other means.

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Workers at Sarasota Memorial Hospital have received death threats in the aftermath of the hospital's release of its COVID-19 pandemic response report.

“Each day, our physicians and staff are receiving threatening, verbally abusive messages,” hospital spokesperson Kim Savage said. “They are full of profanity and death threats. Most of the callers are from outside of our community and state. 

“The vast majority are not calling for answers or information,” she added. “They are simply unleashing angry, hate-filled, often scripted messages.”

The threats are the latest turn in a political and cultural battle engulfing the 98-year-old public hospital that is both a major employer and source of community pride.

Sarasota Police Department spokeswoman Genevieve Judge said that the police department will investigate the threats as far as it can.

Sarasota Police officers were present at the hospital’s Feb. 21 board meeting and would likely be present on one scheduled for March 20, too.

The leader of one local group that has been critical of Sarasota Memorial’s handling of COVID-19 condemned the threats and said it was not connected to them.

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The hospital’s publicly elected board voted 7-2 last week to accept a report that concluded Sarasota Memorial’s COVID-19 patients had better outcomes than those in most other hospitals in Florida and the country. But days later, a group dissatisfied with Sarasota Memorial’s pandemic treatments and policies launched an effort to try to strip the public hospital of both its taxing authority and sovereign immunity shield from large malpractice judgments.

The most prominent political figure linked that effort is retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, former President Donald Trump’s first National national security adviser, who attended the hospital board meeting and later wrote on social media that the meeting “could have been a rebuilding of trust” but “further damaged this institution with a ‘fox inside the henhouse investigation.’ They didn’t address the meat of the issues that County taxpayers (the real owners of the hospital) wanted to hear.

“Their little report is not the end of the investigation. More to follow.”

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Commenting later on public remarks made by hospital board chairman Tramm Hudson, Flynn wrote that “It may be time to privatize this hospital.”

A group known as the “Sarasota Memorial Hospital – Transparency Project,” said the hospital’s taxing authority and sovereign immunity shield were unnecessary.

Savage said the critics’ strategies were “not only harmful, but make it clear that Sarasota Memorial has become the target of a well-funded, well-organized political campaign.

“While we are concerned that one of their end goals is privatizing our nearly 100-year-old community-owned hospital, we also are worried about the immediate impact it is having on our staff and physicians, especially those who have been singled out and whose professional reputations are being threatened by people who have no connections to them or Sarasota Memorial,” she said. “One of the reasons Sarasota Memorial is a high performing hospital is its ability to attract and retain highly skilled physicians, and the misinformation and misrepresentations they are spreading do a grave disservice to our physicians and our community.”

Sarasota Memorial protest planned

Meanwhile, The Zelenko Freedom Foundation plans to host a press conference at 9:30 a.m. on March 20, hours before the next meeting of the Sarasota County Public Hospital Board in a continued effort to call for another outside investigation of the hospital’s COVID-19 response, as well as an investigation by Gov. Ron DeSantis of hospitals.

The group’s executive director Cindy Chafian helped organize the Washington, D.C., rallies that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.

Tanya Parus, president of Sarasota County Moms for America, said families she has talked with have not yet received proper closure or answers to questions related to their loved ones' care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the local contacts for the Zelenko rally stressed that there is no connection between those efforts and recent death threats against the hospital and its staff.

“That has absolutely nothing to do with us, our Sarasota County Moms for America, any of our initiatives,” said Tanya Parus, president of Sarasota County Moms for America. “The hospital, if they are receiving death threats or if any person is receiving death threats, they should contact the police immediately.

“That’s not a behavior that’s condoned by anyone in my organization.”

Parus said the upcoming rally is meant to underscore the frustration people have in what is perceived as an effort to block unwanted input by critics by supporters filling its 340-seat auditorium with hospital staff and putting those workers’ speaking slots at the front of the line during the public comment period.

Meanwhile, she said, their members of the public would prefer to make their comments uninterrupted.

Parus said families she has talked with have not had their questions answered. They want explanations of why their preferred medical treatments such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine were not used while remdesivir was despite family objections, and why they were denied contact with dying loved ones.

In its COVID-19 response, the hospital said by the summer of 2021 patients who wanted specific treatments that differed from federal protocols could get them after signing a waiver.

Primarily, she noted, the families have taken issue with federal COVID care protocols, which the hospital followed.

“Maybe the hospital is a victim in this, maybe they have to follow this protocol,” Parus said.

“I want to move on from this,” she added. “At some point they have to stop using these (federal Centers for Disease Control); they don’t work.”

In addition to that, Parus insisted that the current level of hospital response – including the internal investigation has not offered mourning family members sufficient answers or proper closure.

“If you’re not going to take the time to offer closure to these families – which means going above and beyond – then the public is going to have to do something different,” Parus said. “It’s not to be political.

“You have to handle these things better and these board members have to handle things better,” she added. “Now the trust is broken and what do we do for these guys that need closure?”

…This is a developing story