Novant responds to leaked video with doctor asking for scarier Covid-19 messaging

A video leaked featuring New Hanover Regional Medical Center leadership discussing whether to shift Covid-19 messaging to be more direct and scarier. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY –– A two-minute snippet of an internal video conference among top Novant Health leadership leaked Friday, showing healthcare administrators engaging in a blunt conversation about public Covid-19 messaging. 

It is unclear when the video conference occurred and how it was shared. In the last couple of months, the hospital’s Covid-19 cases have climbed, continuing to reach new records. As of the week ending Sept. 3, New Hanover Regional Medical Center was treating its highest ever Cvoid-19 patients, caring for 132 on a daily basis. Friday, that figure dropped off to 98, still enough to strain the healthcare system. 

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In the video, the team members discuss the possibility of including patients currently categorized in publicly reported figures as “recovered” into the total hospitalized Covid-19 cases. Though these patients are out of isolation and off the Covid-19 designated floor, they remain hospitalized for a variety of reasons.

Over the past few months, the hospital has shared basic numbers on a weekly basis as it relates to the virus’ strain on healthcare resources: total hospitalized, total vaccines administered, total recovered, daily hospitalized, and total deaths. The hospital won’t share ICU bed data or demographic breakdowns of those hospitalized (for instance, how many pediatric cases it’s seeing) and redirects requests to state-reported data; NHRMC reports its trends to this database, figures that are accessible to the public but include other southeastern healthcare systems. 

Carolyn Fisher, NHRMC’s head of marketing, told the leaders in the conference the hospital had been sharing graphics lately, which visualize the majority of hospitalizations and ICU beds are occupied by unvaccinated patients.

In bringing up whether to fold in recovered Covid-19 patients into the hospital’s totals, Dr. Mary Kathryn Rudyk wondered whether directly instilling fear could improve conditions. “Maybe we need to be completely, a little bit more scary for the public,” she said. Rudyk recently served as chief of medical staff at NHRMC in 2020.

Shelbourn Stevens, president of NHRMC and Novant Health’s coastal market, told Rudyk they could “talk offline” to “run that up to marketing,” referring to including the recovered patients.

“I think we have to be more blunt, I think 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,’” Rudyk said. “I mean, let’s just be really blunt to these people.”

Late Friday afternoon, a Novant Health spokesperson addressed the video, as first reported by WECT:

“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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