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Novant Health issues statement on leaked internal discussion of COVID-19 patient numbers

Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 5:19 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center has issued a statement after a video of an internal discussion on how the hospital reports its COVID-19 patient count was leaked on social media.

The just over two-minute video sparked a heated discussion online, with many pointing to the conversation as proof hospitals were falsifying or artificially inflating case counts – one of many conspiracy theories circulating as health officials report record case counts in many parts of the country.

The video begins with the hospital’s Director of Marketing, Carolyn Fisher, explaining what information the hospital provides in terms of COVID-19 numbers, with specific mention of the percentage of unvaccinated hospitalizations.

Dr. Mary Rudyk, who previously served as Chief of Medical Staff for NHRMC, responds bluntly, saying she feels the hospital’s messaging needs to be “a little bit more scary for the public.” She then proposes including patients she characterizes as “post-COVID” in the hospital’s case count – the primary source of the outrage on social media.

After sorting through an apparent misunderstanding, Rudyk further explained her point: “… I think those are important numbers – the patients that are still in the hospital, that are off the COVID floor, but are still occupying the hospital for a variety of reasons.”

Shelbourn Stevens, who earlier this year was named president of NHRMC and the Coastal market, clarified Rudyk’s request, explaining that patients who were initially hospitalized with COVID-19 but are no longer positive for the virus are considered “recovered,” and are therefore removed from the hospital’s COVID-19 patient count.

“But I do think, from our standpoint, we would still consider them a COVID patient because they’re still healing,” Stevens said.

The partial video ends with another blunt statement from Rudyk:

“I think we have to be more blunt, we have to be more forceful, we have to say something coming out, ‘you know you don’t get vaccinated, you know you’re going to die.’ I mean, let’s just be really blunt to these people.”

When reached for comment a spokesperson for Novant Health issued the following statement:

“The team members involved in this excerpt of an internal meeting are seeing the highest level of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths so far in this pandemic - despite having safe and effective vaccines widely available. This was a frank discussion among medical and communications professionals on how we can more accurately convey the severity and seriousness of what’s happening inside of our hospitals and throughout our communities. Specifically, the data we have been sharing does not include patients who remain hospitalized for COVID-19 complications even though they are no longer COVID-19 positive, so it does not provide a complete picture of the total impact of COVID-19 on our patients and on our hospitals. We continue to be concerned with the amount of misinformation in our communities and consistently strive for more ways to be transparent and tell the whole story. The continued rise of hospitalizations makes it evident that we have more work to do to reach our communities with these messages.”

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