Alaska News

Dozens of Alaska doctors receive packages, at work and at home, from group promoting unproven COVID-19 treatments

Doctors asking the Alaska State Medical Board to crack down on colleagues spreading COVID-19 misinformation say they’re receiving holiday packages, some at their homes, from a group pushing for alternative treatments like ivermectin.

The delivery of the packages from the Alaska Covid Alliance came off as threatening and invasive, several doctors said. Each package — at least some of which arrived in holiday-themed gift bags — included chocolates, a letter acknowledging the recipients’ signatures on a recent letter to the medical board and a 28-page pamphlet advocating for mostly unproven COVID-19 treatments.

The “gift drops” idea came about as the result of brainstorming by Alaska Covid Alliance members on “how can we get a dialogue started,” said David Boyle, a member of the group and former executive director of the Alaska Policy Forum, a conservative nonprofit that advocates for small government and less regulation.

“We need to all sit down at the table and talk to each other instead of battling back and forth,” Boyle said Tuesday.

But doctors interviewed for this story say the feeling of being targeted at home and having strangers track down their addresses is part of an increasingly hostile and divisive climate facing the medical community.

At least one of the doctors has filed a report with the Anchorage Police Department. Dr. Merijeanne Moore, who originally drafted the letter sent to the State Medical Board, said she filed the report late last week after receiving a Christmas card signed by the Alaska Covid Alliance, candy and a pamphlet delivered to her home while she was at work.

Police say a detective assigned to investigate found a holiday-themed gift bag that contained a bag of untampered candy.

“A stranger is coming to my house when I’m not home, and leaving a package with no contact information,” she said. “That, to me, is stalking. The message is: We know where your family lives.”

Providence Alaska Medical Center — the state’s largest hospital, where a number of the targeted physicians practice — this week sent an email to medical staff saying the deliveries had been reported to the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association as well as the State Medical Board. A spokeswoman said the situation is under review by hospital leadership.

Some of the packages arrived at medical offices. But many physicians reported the packages arriving at the front door of their home, dropped off by people who arrived in personal vehicles, rang the doorbell and then left quickly.

Dr. Randal Bladel, an Anchorage anesthesiologist, was one of seven doctors who spoke to the Daily News about the packages. Some asked not to be identified over concerns about personal safety.

Bladel said his wife was home when the package was dropped off by an older woman in what appeared to be a private car. He said he wasn’t sure how the group got his address, which isn’t listed on any tax or voting records.

The drop-off “seemed vaguely threatening,” Bladel said Tuesday. “Like, ‘Hey, we know where you live.’ ”

The Alaska Covid Alliance formed in October to hold the “Alaska Early Treatment Medical Summit” — an event in Anchorage that featured nationally prominent vaccine skeptics — and now pushes for alternative protocols, including ivermectin, widely viewed in the medical community as unproven.

Along with Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson and former Anchorage Health Department director David Morgan, at least two Anchorage providers participated in the conference: family practice physician Dr. Ilona Farr and Hillside Family Medicine co-owner Dr. John Nolte.

[Prominent COVID-19 vaccine skeptics to meet in Anchorage this week as Alaska’s case rates top the nation]

Calls to the medical offices of Farr and Nolte were not returned. It was not clear whether either doctor was personally involved with the packages.

Volunteers with the 900-member alliance plan to deliver the packages to all 150 physicians who signed a letter last month asking the State Medical Board to investigate the conduct of local doctors, a representative said Tuesday.

The people dropping off the packages were told not to interact much, beyond a few words.

About 15 volunteers were instructed to drop off the gifts and “just wish them a happy holidays or merry Christmas and just provide the gift of candy and the information package,” Boyle said.

Asked about the doctors’ reactions to the deliveries as being intimidating, he said if someone came to his home with a gift of candy or a package, “the least thing I would feel is threatened. I would say, ‘Thank you very much.’ ”

Home addresses were used for some deliveries because some of the doctors’ medical offices were closed or the volunteers couldn’t get inside, he said.

Boyle said he apologized if any of the doctors took the gesture as threatening.

“It’s unfortunate that they viewed it as such,” he said. “We were trying to start a conversation.”

Dr. Megan Clancy, an infectious disease physician, said she received the letter and chocolates late last week at her office in Anchorage.

She said in an interview that the letter made her angry and uncomfortable, and caused some shifts in office policy in how packages were received.

“Everybody I’ve talked to who received it felt like it was an attempt at intimidation,” Clancy said. “We all really felt violated. I don’t think we felt intimidated, but I think we felt violated, and very angry.”

There have been at least 16 complaints filed with the Alaska State Medical Board against medical practitioners publicly advocating for the use of unproven COVID-19 treatments including ivermectin. As of last week, the board was actively investigating 10.

The alliance is not keeping its role in the deliveries secret. The group announced on its website that it’s delivering “Christmas gifts and information packets” to the doctors.

Dr. Benjamin Westley, an infectious disease doctor who shares an office with Clancy, described the package he got in the context of a charged climate working as a doctor in Anchorage who treats patients — the majority of whom are unvaccinated — for COVID-19.

“Something has dramatically changed in Anchorage in the last six months, that has really altered the flavor of our town and the experience of living and working here, especially as a doctor,” Westley said. “It seems that the manner in which different points of view are worked out amongst people living in Anchorage has become more confrontational.”

This fall, as Alaska’s coronavirus cases skyrocketed and hospitals filled with unvaccinated patients, exhausted health care workers experienced an uptick in hostility by patients and the people they serve, Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, told reporters at the time.

Zink said she had received reports from health care providers who had spoken out at local meetings and were spit at or received threatening letters in the mail. Some pharmacies stopped asking if people want a COVID-19 vaccine because of such angry responses by customers, she said.

Bladel said he returned his gift early this week, along with a letter of his own, with a delivery to Farr’s home.

He said he couldn’t find a physical address for the alliance, and that he chose Farr because her name appeared most prominently in the packet he’d received.

No one was home, he said, so he left the chocolates on the porch.

“My message was that I’m not accepting this,” Bladel said. “And I’m not going to be intimidated.”

In the letter to Farr, Bladel wrote that the treatments the alliance was promoting as treatments for COVID-19 — including ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine and vitamin D — had no “high-quality” studies proving their effectiveness, and that “they give an excuse to refuse the best known prevention: the vaccines.”

“Whatever your intentions, I, and many other recipients of your bags find it creepy and threatening that it was delivered to our residences,” he wrote. “I ask that you and your associates stay away from my residence, my family, and myself.”

[Correction: This story was updated to reflect David Boyle’s status as former director of the Alaska Policy Forum. An earlier version of this story also incorrectly described who Providence Alaska Medical Center had emailed regarding the package deliveries. The email was sent to all medical staff credentialed to work at Providence, not to employees of the hospital.]

Annie Berman

Annie Berman covers health care for the Anchorage Daily News. She's a fellow with Report for America, and is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. A veteran of AmeriCorps and Vista volunteer programs, she's previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in the Bay Area.

Zaz Hollander

Longtime ADN reporter Zaz Hollander is based in the Mat-Su and is currently focused on coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska. She also covers the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.

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