Republican and Libertarian clash for a seat

A longtime GOP member will take on a libertarian in Sarasota County’s only public hospital board race in next week’s midterm elections.

Victor Rohe, the latest member of the self-proclaimed “Health Freedom Slate”, challenges Jonathan Tubbs, a member of the Libertarian Party, for seat 2 of the council’s northern district. The Hospital Board of Trustees provides oversight of the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System.

A victory for Rohe would certify that three of the four conservative candidates making up the Health Freedom platform have won their races.

In the primaries, 14 candidates ran for five seats — all but one (Tubbs) identifying as Republicans. The unusually crowded ballot turned a once low-key race into a coordinated campaign accusing the Sarasota Memorial of patient neglect and major pandemic missteps.

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Sarasota Memorial Hospital maintained its ranking among America's Top 50 Hospitals, as compiled annually by US News & World Report for its 2022-23 Top Hospitals List.  This year, the hospital ranked among the top 50 in two specialties: rehabilitation and urological care.

Rohe has no experience in the medical field, according to his bio on healthfreedomsrq.com. Instead, he is described as a political and fiscal conservative “well experienced in the legal and regulatory systems”, including past titles such as mortgage broker, financial consultant and police lieutenant.

There is no information available online about Tubbs’ background or platform. He did not respond to a list of questions or appeals emailed for this article.

Currently, only two of the eight board members are medical professionals: the chair, Sharon Wetzler DePeters, who is an advanced practice registered nurse, and Richard Rehmeyer, a board-certified ENT, ear, nose and throat specialist. Rohe and Tubbs run for Rehmeyer’s seat.

Two other Health Freedom Slate members, Bridgette Fiorucci and Patricia Maraia, were elected in the August primaries. They are both registered nurses who cited broken trust in the hospital system.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Rohe called COVID-19 vaccines a “joke,” even after experiencing what he called a “bad case” of the virus.

“If I went to the hospital (Sarasota Memorial), I believed I would die,” he said, then deciding to rent his own oxygen unit instead of seeking treatment at one of the best state hospitals and the best in Sarasota. Bradenton area, according to US News & World Report.

Unverified allegations of negligence at SMH

Protesters demonstrated outside Sarasota Memorial Hospital last year after a doctor who was being treated for COVID-19 accused the hospital of abusing him and providing inadequate treatment to another COVID-19 patient. 19.  This doctor's claims have become an issue in Sarasota County Hospital Board races this year.

In an email to the Herald-Tribune, Rohe highlighted three alleged cases of patient neglect. Two allegedly happened in August 2021 and were highlighted in videos from American Media Periscope, an unverified news source. One claimed to have witnessed a patient being neglected in the Sarasota Memorial emergency room. The second was a daughter who was denied visitation with her father after testing positive for COVID and refused to allow the decision to place him on a ventilator.

“These are serious allegations and need to be investigated in order to establish the facts,” Rohe said, adding that he believes the two incidents are not isolated cases.

“During our campaign, we interviewed four widows of patients who had died at SMH during this same period… Many other people approached me during the campaign and said they would not consent to go to SMH for a any reason based on the experience of themselves or their relationships,” he said.

“This is a major public relations issue to say the least, even though the facts do not prove the allegations after a full, transparent and thorough investigation.”

Rohe pointed to a third allegation in September 2021 when a former patient at Sarasota Memorial Hospital filed a complaint with Sarasota police alleging he was the victim of robbery, false imprisonment and assault while on his admission.

While hospitalized with COVID, Stephen Guffanti claimed to have become his (unidentified) roommate’s “patient advocate”, detailing a statement accusing medical staff of ignoring certain symptoms. In the complaint, Guffanti said it was “his own medical opinion that (the housemate) had bacterial pneumonia”, that his clothes were taken out of his closet and never came back, and that he was pushed over a bed while being restrained by four members of staff. members.

According to the complaint, an SMH physician authorized a “face-to-face restraint assessment,” saying Guffanti exhibited severe aggression and erratic behavior, including an allegation of a HIPAA violation. An additional report documented Guffanti taking photos of staff, another patient, and that patient’s medical records. He was eventually placed under the Baker Law.

On September 28, 2021, Sarasota police dismissed the case, stating there was no evidence to support Guffanti’s allegations.

The Herald-Tribune sent several questions to Sarasota Memorial Hospital spokesperson Kim Savage about whether the Health Freedom Slate’s medical freedom message was concerning and asked for comment on public complaints from new board members. of administration of the hospital regarding the hospital’s management of COVID patients and the protocol.

Savage did not respond to questions, instead providing a statement congratulating and welcoming the newly elected board members.

“We look forward to working with them to further our mission and serve our community,” she wrote. “We also extend our thanks to the outgoing members of the hospital’s board of directors who provided outstanding leadership to the health care system and the community.”

What does “medical freedom” mean?

Health freedom candidates are running on a rallying platform for ‘medical freedom’, a term adopted by conservatives to appeal to those who oppose vaccination mandates, masking and distancing social.

According to the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the term represents an aversion to government intervention in personal health choices, “often coupled with the counter-promotion of a dramatic or miracle cure,” such as clinical vaccinations.

“Medical freedom is the ability of patients to make their own medical decisions,” Rohe said. “The traditional doctor-patient relationship is what we’re talking about here. Not the government or an insurance company represented by an administrator, telling the doctor and the patient what the treatment will be.”

Since the emergence of COVID-19, medical freedom advocates have expanded their protests to include preventative measures such as social distancing. The medical freedom movement continues to gain prominence by promoting ineffective treatments lacking scientific studies, such as promoting ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as miracle cures for COVID.

An early health freedom candidate, retired physician Joseph S. Chirillo, admitted to prescribing unauthorized drugs to treat patients with COVID-19 in August.

Rohe and Tubbs contest for the last open seat on the hospital board on November 8.

Stefania Lugli covers a bit of everything for the Herald-Tribune. You can contact her at [email protected] or the dm on Twitter at @steflugli.

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