TAHLEQUAH – During his report to the Cherokee Nation Health Committee on Sept. 13, Health Services Executive Director Dr. Stephen Jones addressed what he called “irresponsible and inaccurate information that members or a member of this body has put out” on social media.

“That type of communication hits in the heart,” he said.

Jones cited an Aug. 18 Facebook post from Tribal Councilor Wes Nofire that reads, in part, “Vaccinated or unvaccinated, ever (sic) citizen deserves the right to equal healthcare when sick. I have already heard many stories about sending unvaccinated citizens home while admitting vaccinated citizens.”

Jones called the post “absolutely inaccurate.”

“As you can tell from our numbers, 95% of our people in our hospital are unvaccinated,” he said, referring to the 19 currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients at W.W. Hastings Hospital.

To bolster his point, Jones invited CN nurse manager Michele Marshall and Dr. Dustin Beck to address the Council.

“The past year and a half of our health care staff’s lives has been nothing short of a living nightmare,” an emotional Marshall said. “They work countless hours to care for the sick, those in need in our communities, regardless of a vaccination status and most certainly regardless of a payer source.” 

Beck, a physician at Hastings Hospital, said health care employees “take care of every patient regardless of age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, vaccine status, what you’re favorite Oklahoma college sports team is, it doesn’t matter.”

“If you come into our hospital, we’re going to take care of you and give you the same treatments that we would give anybody else,” he said. “To say that we would do anything other than that, whether it was intended or not, calls into question our ethics. There are few things that will irritate or anger a health care professional more than to question their ethics.”

Beck asked councilors to “try to keep the negative comments, in particular ones about the virus, our hospital, our health care system and our health care professionals working there, try to keep those off social media.”         

“Most of us are just hanging on by a thread, and any statement like that can be enough to cause us to want to leave,” he added.

Beck noted that he’d been “right on the front line since the pandemic started.”

“Every day we went to work, we were risking our health and potentially our lives to try to save others,” he said. “For me, I had a renewed sense of passion and purpose for my profession that I entered. The vaccines came out and we thought, OK, this is the beginning of the end. But for various reasons … the vaccine rates have not been as high as we would have liked, and coming with that has been a second surge. Those feelings of passion and purpose and energy have been replaced with depression, burnout, fatigue, exhaustion.”

Nofire said he appreciated the health employees “expressing their concerns about what people have said on social media.”

“It is just a concern overall of what we’re going through in this pandemic,” he added.

Tribal Council Speaker Mike Shambaugh told the health employees that, “Even though some negative things came out, I promise you this Council supports you in what you do.”

“Don’t ever think that you’re not supported by this Council,” he said. “I hate that you have to be here to defend yourself because in the end, we are the ones who should be defending you for everything you have done for our people.”

Tribal Councilor Candessa Tehee said CN health professionals “deserve an apology.”

“Any irresponsible and inaccurate information should be withdrawn publicly in the same manner it was put forward,” she said.

Tribal Councilor Keith Austin said he hoped “something good comes out of this.”

“We should never be pulling precious resources away from dealing with the patients to deal with political theater anymore,” he said.