SARASOTA, Fla. — Weeks after the release of a report that reviewed its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarasota Memorial Hospital has remained under a storm of criticism by some groups who said they stand for "health freedom."
Meetings with members of the hospital board have continued to be the scene where the brewing controversy has played out. Monday's meeting was yet another where people packed the auditorium to capacity.
In the audience, there was a large number of residents and non-residents alike, including members of advocacy groups that have spoken out against the hospital system's COVID-19 protocols during the pandemic.
The meeting focused on criticism of the hospital for being "blinded by CDC protocols" and not implementing the use of alternative treatments like Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquin, which are not recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for COVID-19 treatment.
Critics also said the hospital's internal review is biased and called for a third-party investigation.
Hospital management said the groups are solely targeting the hospital based on propaganda and disinformation in order to push an agenda.
Ahead of the meeting, some leaders and members of those groups rallied Monday morning in Venice where they continued to criticize the hospital's leadership. They echoed the calls for an independent investigation into pandemic protocols.
Also at the meeting were some family members of people who died from COVID-19 — some of whom were treated at SMH. Specifically Brenda Pastorick, whose husband died from COVID-19 in the fall of 2021.
"Protocols and the simple humanitarian aspects of my husband being and not getting simple ice water," Pastorick said.
Pastorick claimed not only was her husband treated differently because he was unvaccinated, but she also said he was denied the non-FDA-approved drug Ivermectin.
She recalled two occasions where his feeding tubes were applied incorrectly and how his condition declined when he was put on the antiviral drug Remdesivir. She alleged that a combination of those actions plus being isolated from family, in her view, led to her husband's death.
"My husband had been out of isolation, still they didn't let us in because they had their COVID-19 restricted hours to 24 hours," Pastorick said.
The hospital's protocol was reviewed by more than 70 doctors and researchers. It showed that the hospital cared for 70% of the county's COVID-19 cases and had a 24% lower COVID-19 death rate compared to the national average.
But the hospital's critics said they distrust the system and fault its implementation of CDC guidelines and the use of Remdesivir, which is FDA approved.
"The attacks are completely unfounded and frankly reprehensible," Tramm Hudson, the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Board Chair, said. "We've had death threats to some of our doctors. Our medical staff has been subjected to some very, very rude behavior and frankly, it's reprehensible."
Hospital managers said those who lost loved ones under SMH's care brought their issues to the board's attention which lead to the review. The board voted 7-2 to adopt the recommendations of the report as a blueprint for how to deal with a pandemic-related crisis if one were to occur in the future.
At Monday's meeting, the board chair indicated that the board would move on from the matter without considering another investigation.
"My plea is that, especially for the simple things that I mentioned, that they would put a better system into place, but mostly because of those protocols," Pastorick said.
The hospital's report also pointed out that some elements of the COVID-19 protocol, like visitation, were too restrictive.
The report stated that preventing patients from contact with their loved ones in a way that isolated them was detrimental to the emotional and spiritual well-being of both patients and their families.