The Oklahoma Hospital Association reacts to stories that an emergency room doctor lied to the media about rampant ivermectin overdoses in the state.
“Sensational headlines get attention,” said OHA President Patti Davis. “I think the lesson learned for all of us that do media briefings is that the potential for things to be sensationalized is always out there.”
On Sep. 1, Oklahoma news outlet KFOR published an article featuring Dr. Jason McElyea, an emergency room doctor. In the article, McElyea is quoted as supporting the idea that patients who’ve taken ivermectin are “packing” hospitals in eastern and southeastern Oklahoma.
The article was picked up by national news outlets including Rolling Stone and MSNBC.
An outcry soon followed as the article was debunked: the picture it painted didn’t match up with the numbers.
In August, the National Poison Data System reported 459 ivermectin overdoses nationally. On Aug. 10, the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information told Public Radio Tulsa it had fielded 10 calls to date about ivermectin.
Much of the blame fell on McElyea as Rolling Stone published a Sep. 5 update to its article saying that one hospital system, Northeastern Health System Sequoyah, hadn’t employed the doctor in over two months.
In the same update, NHS Sequoyah acknowledged that McElyea was part of a medical staffing group. Staffing groups can provide coverage for multiple hospitals.
Despite this detail, McElyea’s character and qualifications were questioned on a national stage.
Kyle Griffin, a senior producer for MSNBC, tweeted to his over one million followers that he deleted a shared link to the KFOR article. “Reporting from other outlets has shown that the man at the center of this piece to be lying,” read Griffin’s Tweet.
Griffin wasn’t the only one. The pile on came from many directions as the story became a talking point in the culture war.
On Sep. 6, INTEGRIS Grove issued a statement validating McElyea, saying he was employed at the hospital and that they’d seen a “handful” of patients taking ivermectin.
So what actually happened?
On Aug. 31, the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition held its weekly COVID press briefing. McElyea was a speaker on this conference, as well as OHA President Patti Davis who emphasized that hospitals in Oklahoma are struggling because of COVID patients.
“Right now, our hospitals are at capacity,” said Davis.
McElyea echoed this sentiment in his subsequent remarks. He spoke for a little over three minutes.
McElyea began by saying he’d recently seen a patient with a gunshot wound who needed to be transferred, but finding another place was tough since hospitals were full.
“We had critical patients sitting in our ER for hours and we simply couldn’t find a place for them to go,” said McElyea.
Ivermectin was not mentioned in connection with this congestion. McElyea didn’t mention ivermectin until about two minutes later as he empathetically described the hardships for patients of backed up hospitals.
“Where that recently hit home for me was I had a colleague tell me they transferred a patient to South Dakota. These families have to worry not just about how their loved one is doing, but also how to get them back when they’re better. That’s not something insurances cover. So how do you get your loved one back if they do recover? It’s hard on the patient and it’s hard on the family,” said McElyea. “It gets more backed up in the ER as we try to do these things. Other things that back us up - and this is new to me over the last couple weeks - is we’re getting patients we shouldn’t see to be begin with. Specifically what hit me hard is colleagues and myself have all seen more than a handful over the last week or two of patients coming in with complication from ivermectin use.”
McElyea went on to say this unspecified number of patients bought ivermectin over the counter and dosed themselves. They came in with nausea, vomiting, and vision loss. He concluded his comments by saying that people should rely on their doctors for advice.
Later, McElyea gave an additional interview to KFOR. In it, he talks once again about crowded hospitals and seeing gunshot victims.
OHA President Patti Davis said on this week’s Healthier Oklahoma press conference that, ultimately, something was lost in translation.
“I was on that call, as were others that are on this call, and we heard what he said, and once we saw the sensationalism, we were like, ‘Well, he didn’t exactly say that.’”