Oklahoma governor disputes alleged ‘frustration’ with healthcare workers speaking out

TULSA, Okla. — Gov. Kevin Stitt is facing criticism for his treatment of Oklahoma hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

First reported by The Frontier’s Ben Felder, Stitt has been accused by doctors of threatening to retaliate for them speaking out on the conditions of the state’s hospitals.

“Stitt said if doctors didn’t stop ‘fearmongering’ about capacity issues it could force him to impose a ban on elective surgeries, which would be a financial hardship for many hospitals,” The Frontier report says.

Stitt told FOX23 radio partner KRMG on Nov. 3 that “there’s a lot of folks that are fear-mongering” about the state’s hospital capacity.

Oklahoma had more than 1,700 people hospitalized in connection with COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning.

Some healthcare workers have told FOX23 that they are scared to speak out about what they’re experiencing in their hospitals as they fear losing their jobs over it.

Multiple healthcare workers say they are not allowed to talk openly and some have said their social media accounts are being monitored.

FOX23‘s Tiffany Alaniz shared now-deleted tweets from a St. Francis COVID-19 intensive care unit nurse who spoke out after seeing Stitt had visited the hospital Tuesday and accused him of neglecting to visit with the nurses who are on the front lines of the pandemic.

MORE >>> Gov. Stitt visits ICU at St. Francis Tuesday

The tweets were deleted Wednesday morning as well as the nurse’s Twitter account.

Stitt’s office responded Wednesday afternoon with the following statement:

“The accounts of conversations between Governor Stitt and hospital leaders are not being accurately portrayed. The governor did not and has not expressed frustration with employees talking publicly about COVID-19 but rather the discrepancy in information between those messages and what was being reported to the State. The consistency of information has improved greatly over the past few weeks as hospital leaders are collaborating with their peers and the State at unprecedented levels. At some points in recent months, it had been a challenge to obtain standardized, accurate information regarding hospital capacity as reports provided to the media did not match information being provided to the State. We know our healthcare workers are working under incredibly difficult conditions and strongly encourage all Oklahomans to support them by doing their part to slow the spread of this virus. We do not believe these discrepancies were intentional, but rather a representation of the complex and constantly changing data related to hospital staff and availability. The governor has previously mentioned the possibility of limiting elective surgeries to free up hospital capacity but has also had many conversations with doctors and hospital leaders regarding the overall impacts of such action and it has not been actively considered for some time.”

—  Office of Gov. Kevin Stitt

Oklahoma State Medical Association President George Monks released a statement on The Frontier report Wednesday afternoon.

“Collectively, the members of the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition represent the healthcare professionals that are putting their lives on the line to save others. We have to ensure those voices are heard by state’s leaders. To accomplish this, we developed a letter that included the concerns we were hearing and offered solutions that could help lessen the projected number of COVID positive Oklahomans. We have been pleased to see that several of the suggestions we’ve made have been implemented, and will continue to work with the Governor, Sec. of Health and Health Commissioner to find other solutions to abate this crisis. In regard to the interviews by health care professionals, physicians, nurses and other hospital workers are the ones on the front lines of the battle against COVID. They are the ones seeing the death and destruction this disease is causing. We think it is essential that the public continues to hear from these frontline workers and hopefully understand the impact their individual behaviors can have on their community’s health care provider.”

—  Oklahoma State Medical Association President George Monks

Ryan Love, FOX23 News

Ryan Love is a Digital Content Producer for FOX23 News in Tulsa. A Detroit area native, Ryan joined FOX23 in June 2018 after graduating from Wayne State University with a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism. Ryan handles day-to-day digital content and social media strategy for the station.