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Commissioners reopen public comments on health board appointment

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | October 26, 2021 7:00 AM

Residents will get another chance to weigh in on the appointment of Eureka’s Dr. Dianna Carvey to the Lincoln County Health Board this week.

County commissioners unanimously backed Carvey for the board Oct. 13, tossing aside an advertised south county preference for the position. The night prior, the health board deadlocked along geographical and doctrinal lines with the panels’ north county members voting in support of their neighbor — and, for one member, personal physician.

Commissioners reversed course last week, saying during their regularly scheduled Wednesday meeting that they failed to follow the correct process for appointing a new member. Although commissioners briefly discussed the candidates for the open seat, they omitted public comment prior to the vote.

That needed rectifying, said County Commissioner Josh Letcher (D-3), who serves as his colleagues’ representative to the health board, on Wednesday.

“Last meeting, most of the attendees were from the board of health and we assumed they had made their public comments the night before,” Letcher said. “We didn't ask for public comment. Because we didn’t ask for it, now we’re going to do the process again and take in the public comment.”

Commissioners did reference the overwhelming support Carvey received in comments submitted to them prior to their vote at the time. They noted that they had received none for Dr. Gregory Rice, the candidate favored by the board’s south Lincoln County contingent.

The disparity in support seems poised to change. County Commissioner Brent Teske (D-1), who made the motion to appoint Carvey to the seat, said Wednesday that commissioners had received even more correspondence. Support for both candidates had evened out, he said.

But Teske stressed that public opinion only carried so much weight. He echoed statements commissioners made last week after highlighting the universal support for Carvey prior to her appointment.

“It’s what’s best for Lincoln County,” Teske said.

While the geographic divide on the board serves as the most visible, location belies a deeper schism, one over how to confront the COVID-19 pandemic. Eureka-area members, including Letcher, have expressed skepticism about mainstream treatments and longstanding methods for preventing the spread of a virus.

Debra Armstrong, who represents Eureka on the panel, has previously objected to countywide pandemic measures. Patricia Kincheloe, the designated at-large member from north Lincoln County, last month recommended doctors overwhelmed by the pandemic stay positive and encourage their patients to adopt healthy lifestyles. Letcher has previously highlighted the controversial anti-parasitic drug ivermectin as a possible treatment option for COVID-19.

Carvey, too, is linked to ivermectin. The group Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, which promotes ivermectin as a “core medication in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19” lists Carvey as a worldwide associate. Scientific American has described the organization as a “fringe doctors’” group. Locally, north county residents who oppose vaccines have promoted Carvey’s use of the drug during coronavirus outbreaks there.

Both the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to warn against using ivermectin. Instead, the two federal agencies recommend people hoping to avoid COVID-19 get vaccinated against the virus.

Rice, meanwhile, has long been a vocal supporter of robust pandemic measures. In the early months of the pandemic, he led a local group of medical professionals in urging county commissioners to take action regarding the pandemic. When the commissioners asked Rice and his colleagues to lead a public awareness campaign, he and his wife launched Team 56. The grassroots group worked throughout the pandemic to encourage residents to don masks, socially distance and engage in regular hand washing.

Rice has since retired, but continues to advocate locally for area medical professionals struggling with the pandemic. His stance earned him the derision of residents first opposed to pandemic restrictions and later vaccinations. Critics labeled him a socialist and accused him of trying to indoctrinate area children with Marxist ideology.

The agenda for the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners meeting lists the health board public comment period for 10 a.m., Oct. 27. Teske and Letcher said health board member Jim Seifert, who represents Troy on the panel, sparked the do-over when he complained about the lack of public comment.

County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2), who was absent Oct. 20, contacted Dan Clark of the Local Government Center for clarification, Letcher said. Clark recommended they revisit public comment, he said.

“I think it was within that same day we decided to put it on [the agenda],” Letcher said.