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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Hospital: Public officials threaten doctors over COVID care

 St. Peter's Hospital in Helena, MT.
Shaylee Ragar
St. Peter's Hospital in Helena, MT.

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Three public officials threatened doctors at a Montana hospital after they refused to treat a COVID-19 patient with ivermectin, a drug to treat parasites that is not federally approved to treat the respiratory disease, officials of St. Peter's Health in Helena said.

"These officials have no medical training or experience, yet they were insisting our providers give treatment for COVID-19 that are not authorized, clinically approved or within the guidelines established by the FDA and the CDC," hospital spokesperson Andrea Groom wrote in an email to the Montana State News Bureau on Monday.

Groom added: "In addition, they threatened to use their position of power to force our doctors and nurses to provide this care."

The hospital did not name the elected officials, but Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen's office confirmed that he participated in a conference call with hospital executives last week after having sent a Montana Highway Patrol trooper to the hospital to talk with the family of the patient.

The event unfolded when Helena woman in her 80s was hospitalized and wanted to be treated with ivermectin, a drug that has been promoted by Republican lawmakers, conservative talk show hosts and some doctors as a treatment for COVID-19.

Ivermectin has been used in other countries, including India and Brazil, and some studies on its effectiveness are underway. Its manufacturer, Merck, has said there is no indication the drug is safe or effective against COVID-19.

The Department of Justice is investigating "very troubling allegations" from the woman's family that the hospital refused to allow the patient to receive prescribed medications, didn't deliver legal documents, didn't allow them to see their relative and at one point cut "off text message communication between them and their family member," Knudsen spokesperson Kyler Nerison wrote Monday in an email to the Montana State News Bureau.

"After hearing of the allegations and the ensuing investigation, Attorney General Knudsen contacted a board member who set up a telephone conference with hospital executives" Nerison wrote. "No one was threatened or had their clinical judgment questioned while the Department of Justice was trying to get to the bottom of the serious allegations that the hospital was mistreating a patient and violating her rights and her family's rights."

The hospital, which has visitor restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the facility, rebutted that statement.

"We have reviewed all medical and legal records related to these incidents, and we have verified that our teams are providing care in accordance with clinical best practice, hospital policy and patient rights," Groom wrote. "Any allegations or assertions otherwise are unfounded."

Groom added: "Any efforts to exert pressure on our providers, including by public officials, will not result in deviation from widely accepted clinical treatment protocols or our hospital policy. Furthermore, harassing our care teams places an additional burden of stress on these individuals, diverting their time and focus away from caring for these critically ill patients."

A Facebook post last week from the president of the Montana Federation of Republican Women said the patient obtained prescriptions for ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine from an outside doctor, but said that the hospital would not let her have those medications.

"Family and friends desire to have the hospital obey the law and follow the 'right to try' signed by Gov. (Steve) Bullock and allow (the patient) to have the medications she wants," federation president Heidi Roedel said in an email Monday to the Montana State News Bureau.

The Right to Try Act was passed by the state Legislature in 2015 and allows people to seek experimental treatments for terminal illnesses.

The Facebook post asked people use the hospital's online contact form to tell the hospital to give the woman the medications.

Republican state Sen. Theresa Manzella of Hamilton said Tuesday she was one of the people who asked why the woman's requests were being denied and why her "constitutional right to dignity, self-determination and right to try were not being considered."

Manzella said she didn't speak to anyone in person.

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