Sarasota Memorial board asked to investigate hospital’s COVID care

People crowded into the board room Tuesday for a meeting of the Sarasota Memorial Hospital...
People crowded into the board room Tuesday for a meeting of the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Board meeting.,(WWSB-TV)
Published: Nov. 29, 2022 at 6:03 PM EST
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UPDATED Nov. 30 with board’s decision to refer concerns to committee.

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Sarasota County residents packed a Sarasota Memorial Hospital board room Tuesday afternoon after the local Democratic Party raised an alarm over what they say is an attempt by conservatives to politicize local health care.

Conservatives, on the other hand, say they want an investigation into charges that patients rights were routinely violated in matters regarding treatment methods and visitation by family members.

Calling three newly elected Hospital Board members “freedom-from-science extremists,” JoAnne DeVries, chair of the Sarasota County Democratic Party, said in a news release the three are “threatening the integrity and future” of the hospital.

The board decide to refer concerns to the hospital’s Quality Committee, with the expectation that there will be a two-layered review; to look at “specific, individual patient care concerns, as well as to take a broad look at care throughout the pandemic, to review the lessons learned and plan for the future,” SMH Spokeswoman Allison Smith said.

The Quality Committee includes physicians and clinical leaders, as well all current board members.

The three new board members targeted in the Democrats’ news release -- Patricia Maraia, Bridgette Fiorucci, and Victor Rohe -- campaigned on the platform of “medical freedom,” an idea championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis during the COVID-19 pandemic, which rejects state or federal vaccine and mask mandates in favor of an individual’s right to choose their course of treatment.

Dr. Jay Wolfson, senior associate dean for Health Policy and Practice at the Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida, says it’s important to realize that the country is in an era where politicization has affected almost everything in our lives. “Education, health care, transportation, almost everything that’s public has had a stronger political light shone on it,” he told ABC7. “And that’s reflective of how I think our public is concerned about the value it’s getting for its tax dollars.”

Board members with political agendas could be worrisome, he said. “I think you’ve just got to be careful.”

“If they have their personal political beliefs about the value of vaccines, that’s one thing. But unless and until our community experiences another horrific event like COVID back in 2020 and 2021, I think we’ve got it pretty well under control now,” he said.

“I don’t exactly see what the board could do to cause damage to the health of the public unless they invoke policies that create risk inside the institution for patient care and quality.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, when members of the audience were given time to speak, Jenny Naylor said she came from Boston to talk about her mother, who died of COVID-19-related complications at the hospital.

Naylor said her mother, while here on vacation, was hospitalized with COVID-19. She said doctors began administering Actemra, a medication authorized by the FDA for emergency use for COVID-19 patients. Two days later, Naylor says her mother’s liver began failing.

Her lungs began filling with fluid, and another drug, Remdesivir, was prescribed. Three days later, Naylor said, her mother’s kidneys began to fail. “Antibiotics were given, seven days after she asked for them,” Naylor told the board.

Her father asked doctors to treat his wife with ivermectin, a controversial drug touted by some but rejected by most medical experts. Doctors at Sarasota Memorial, Naylor said, refused to administer ivermectin.

Naylor’s mother died 12 days after being admitted.

Naylor pointed out that in November 2020, the World Health Organization recommended against the use of Remdesivir in COVID-19 cases. She wants an investigation into why the hospital used that course of treatment. “Legal rights were violated and harmful drugs have been administered,” she told the board.

“For my mother and for all other who seemingly died because of these protocols, I beg you to do your job.”

Several doctors working at Sarasota Memorial Hospital also spoke to the board, defending their work to fight a growing and dangerous virus. Dr. Richard Lichtenstein, a radiologist and Sarasota native, says the hospital’s leadership worked tirelessly to refine their response to the emergency.

“I want you to be aware the medical staff leadership ... met on a regular weekly basis, and early on and during the surge, met frequently on a daily basis, on multiple times during a day, to deal with each new issue and permutation,” he said.

Wolfson says it may be too early to fear what the new board members may bring to the table. “It’s also my experience that as radical or as wildly conservative as individuals may be, once they become part of an institution and see how it really functions ... they they ease up a bit and they learn to understand and appreciate the complexities of running an institution and providing care within its walls.

“Especially institutions as complex and dynamic as Sarasota Memorial Hospital in the community,” he said.