Thursday, August 18, 2022

Eureka doctor appointed to county health board

Daily Inter Lake | October 15, 2021 7:00 AM

The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners selected a Eureka area doctor Oct. 13 to fill the vacant at-large seat on the county health board.

Dr. Dianna Carvey earned the unanimous support of all three commissioners, beating out Dr. Gregory Rice, a recently retired physician from Libby, and Libby attorney Dave Harman. She succeeds Dr. Sara Mertes, who died in a tragic plane crash long with her husband, Jacob, in August.

The decision came after the six-person health board deadlocked on a recommendation the evening prior. Of the three candidates for the vacant spot, the north Lincoln County members supported Carvey while their three southern counterparts backed Rice. Officials advertised the vacant seat with a resident of the Libby or Troy area in mind.

Geography has served as a point of contention for at-large seats on the health board as the pandemic has waxed and waned locally. Board membership consists of three members appointed by city councils in Eureka, Libby and Troy, and three at-large seats filled by county commissioners. One member of the board of commissioners rounds out the panel.

Eureka area representation on the board has grown since north Lincoln County residents decried the region’s lack of members last year. Many of the loudest voices for a stronger Eureka contingent had earlier argued furiously against taking pandemic precautions locally. They switched tact after several failed attempts to disband the health board and oust Dr. Brad Black as the county’s health officer.

Commissioners, who then included Mark Peck of Libby, agreed in late 2020 that the northern portion of the county needed more representation. The commissioners’ representative to the board, Peck resigned in favor of County Commissioner Josh Letcher (D-3) of Eureka. Board member George Jamison of the Libby area also stepped down, hoping to make way for a successor from north Lincoln County. In early 2021, commissioners appointed Scott Bernhard, then a member of the Eureka Town Council, to take his seat.

Bernhard resigned in May. As commissioners sought to fill the seat in July, they looked for a north county resident to step forward, eventually appointing Patricia Kincheloe.

But during the Oct. 13 appointment, commissioners scrapped geographical or residency considerations. County Commissioner Brent Teske (D-1) nominated Carvey after dismissing the south Lincoln County preference.

“If the intent is the equal representation, I would really strongly suggest we look at the [health board’s] bylaws and denote that so that we don’t have this loaded one way or the other in the future,” Teske said. “I agree equal representation is important, however it needs to be denoted somewhere so it has to be the intention.”

Moreover, Teske said he received more than 20 letters of support for Carvey prior to the decision. Letcher also reported getting statements in favor of Carvey, but said he favored her appointment more based on her performance during the pandemic.

“I want to rely on Carvey’s track record, her openness and willingness to try new things, to do what works, watch what is working and not just stick to some kind of national protocol that we don’t know if it even is working,” he said. “She’s opened-minded. She saves a lot of lives in Eureka. She doesn’t have an agenda.”

Carvey is listed as one of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance’s worldwide associates, which according to the group’s website means she uses or plans to use the organization’s protocols. The organization, described as a “fringe doctors” group by Scientific American, is led by Dr. Pierre Kory, who has widely promoted ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19. The FLCCC describes ivermectin as a “core medication in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.”

Kory’s former employer, the University of Wisconsin’s teaching hospital, does not use ivermectin to treat the disease, according to Business Insider. And the FDA has repeatedly warned against use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19.

“The FDA has not authorized or approved ivermectin for use in preventing or treating COVID-19 in humans or animals,” reads a consumer update released by the federal agency. “Ivermectin is approved for human use to treat infections caused by some parasitic worms and head lice and skin conditions like rosacea.”

Carvey’s appointment points to another split on the health board, one over how best to confront the pandemic locally. It also underscores the views held by the county commissioners on COVID-19.

Carvey’s three supporters on the health board, along with residing in the same region of the county, have pushed back on mainstream strategies for preventing the spread of the coronavirus and treating COVID-19. Deb Armstrong, the Eureka representative to the board, had regularly questioned the county health officer’s assessment of the pandemic and warned her colleagues against promoting COVID-19 vaccines. She rejected directives of any kind, to include quarantines for those suffering from or exposed to the virus, during a March board meeting.

Kincheloe, who holds the at-large seat still dedicated to north Lincoln County, last month suggested that area health care providers promote healthy living, including good nutrition, vitamins and supplements as well as rest and positive attitudes, to combat the virus’ spread.

And Letcher has long promoted ivermectin as a potential treatment at both health board and board of county commissioners meetings. Though he maintains he represents the county as a whole on the health board, Letcher regularly sides with his north Lincoln County colleagues.

As for the remaining commissioners, who had the final say on Carvey’s appointment, Teske appeared at a rally supporting Gov. Greg Gianforte’s ban on vaccine mandates — which extends to private employers — in late August. County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2) alluded this year and last to lobbying on behalf of new laws that give elected officials authority over health boards and officers. In May, he told the group of pandemic deniers and anti-vaxxers agitating for the health board’s disbandment that he and his colleagues had carved out a seat on the board for them, referring to the spot now held by Kincheloe.

Bennett echoed Teske on Oct. 13, saying that he wanted to see the health board’s bylaws updated and the question of meting out seats by geographical location settled.

“I think there really needs to be some changes to define this,” Bennett said of designating at-large seats for regions. “I do believe we need to balance this out legally if we want to do this in the future.”

Like Letcher and Teske, Bennett told the small audience gathered for the appointment that he had received multiple letters in support of Carvey and not a word for any of the other candidates.

After the commissioners voted, Jim Seifert asked why the trio took no public comment on the appointment. Troy’s representative to the health board and a supporter of vaccinations, Seifert voted for Rice the night prior.

“No... there wasn’t any [public comment] designated,” Bennett said.

Commissioners did not take public comment prior to either recent at-large appointment. But they made those selections following the public comment period on each week’s agenda.

Prior to selecting Bernhard for the north Lincoln County seat early this year, commissioners were lobbied heavily by the former town councilor’s supporters during the public comment period. They rejected the health board’s recommended appointee at the time in favor of Bernhard, who questioned the severity of the pandemic, the effectiveness of masks and the safety of the vaccines.