FederalHealthcareState SenateStatewide NewsSenate Committee Holds 10-Hour Hearing on ‘Lessons to Learn’ from Texas’ $10.8 Billion COVID-19 Response

Officials, doctors, and Texas residents testified before the Health & Human Services Committee about the government’s pandemic response.
July 1, 2022
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On Monday, June 27, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee held an interim hearing on public health data and the pandemic response, charges given to the committee by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Witness testimony and public comments in front of the committee lasted over 10 hours.

Witnesses included state officials from various agencies involved in the pandemic response, including the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), the Office of the Attorney General, the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), the Texas Medical Board (TMB), and the Texas State Board of Pharmacy.

The committee heard testimony from medical experts including Dr. Robert Malone, Dr. Peter McCullough, and Dr. Richard Bartlett, all of whom have been involved in early treatment protocols and vaccine skepticism, along with doctors affiliated with medical schools and large hospital systems.

Dozens of members of the public also commented.

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Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), who chairs the committee, opened the hearing by expressing her desire to learn from the pandemic response, what worked and didn’t work, and “what we could do differently if another virus were to rise tomorrow.”

The first section of the hearing was focused on public data — its collection, collaboration, and use.

DSHS Deputy Commissioner Kirk Cole acknowledged that its systems were not designed for or capable of handling the demand to collect “real-time” data related to COVID-19, but it has made adjustments to processes so that it could increase capacity for data now and in the future.

Senators raised issues with DSHS about COVID-19 death certificates, tracking COVID-19 deaths among the vaccinated population, attribution of death to vaccine adverse events, and publicity regarding the availability of monoclonal antibody treatments.

One concern Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) raised with TDEM was Texas’ dependence on foreign supplies of personal protective equipment. Kolkhorst also wants to work toward “onshoring” more pharmaceutical and personal protective equipment to the state.

Sen. Bob Hall (R-Rockwall) pressed the issue of why data wasn’t gathered about the outcomes related to those patients who received the antiviral drug Remdesivir and those who received early outpatient treatment like monoclonal antibodies. He also asked about financial incentives hospitals received for certain medical treatments.

Other issues raised by speakers included the need for an expanded transfer system as was used in the El Paso area to facilitate transfers between hospitals if one was at capacity with patients waiting.

The majority of the testimony came in the second part of the interim hearing concerning the pandemic response policies.

According to DSHS, the state spent over $10.8 billion on the pandemic response, most or all of which is supposed to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

DSHS was asked if it is collecting any data regarding the effects of delayed treatments for other conditions due to COVID-19 restrictions or about the mental health crisis among children. It is not doing so at this time.

HHSC, which regulates nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, gave testimony primarily about the challenges faced by nursing homes and its pandemic protocols for sanitation, but made little mention of the visitation restrictions that left long-term care residents in isolation for six months. Essential caregivers were allowed to visit in September 2020.

Thomas Kim of the Texas Medical Association told the committee that the “pandemic is not yet over.” Perry was quick to respond that “we need to get out of that mindset.”

Hall also asked Kim about masking children and its impact, but Kim demurred saying he’d support it “if the situation warrants it.”

Memorial Hermann Health System executive James McCarthy reported that the Houston-based system had treated over 93,000 coronavirus patients and administered over a half-million doses of the COVID-19 injections.

He said their protocol changed over time with new information and that they “strongly encouraged evidence-based treatment,” but that no doctors had their privileges terminated due to treatments given.

Dr. Mary Talley Bowden had her privileges suspended by Houston’s Methodist Hospital in November 2020 for “spreading dangerous misinformation” about COVID-19 and treatments with ivermectin.

McCarthy acknowledged that its vaccine requirement did result in dozens of employees leaving Memorial Hermann “for noncompliance with a condition of employment.”

Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Belton), who is also a physician, pushed back, asking about the logic in requiring a vaccine for staff who had natural immunity from an episode of COVID-19.

“It feels like we have departed from common sense,” she quipped.

Malone, a vaccinologist, was highly critical of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and National Institutes of Health (NIH), saying they were politicized.

“The development of repurposed drugs and treatments have been aggressively blocked by the NIH and FDA due to the emergency use authorization. The CDC has promoted and marketed vaccination with an unlicensed, emergency authorized product.”

He added that the agencies have failed to provide adequate monitoring and reporting of vaccine safety data and thus patients receiving the vaccines are not giving “informed consent.”

Malone recommended that Texas implement its own independent public health monitoring board to analyze risks and outcomes in a timely fashion.

McCullough, an internist and cardiologist from Dallas who has gained an international following for his early treatment protocol, suggested lessons that could be learned from the pandemic medical response.

He recommended the committee “pay attention to big developments,” such as a U.S. Senate hearing in May 2020 when doctors testified that steroids worked as a treatment for COVID-19. He also pointed to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons’ publication of a home treatment guide even though none of the large government public health agencies or renowned medical schools had done so.

McCullough also pointed to the World Health Organization’s warning in November 2020 about the dangers of Remdesivir. “The question should have been asked if Texans were being hurt,” he urged.

Regarding the vaccine program, McCullough said that by January 2021 “we knew there was a problem.”

Senators pushed back on the Texas Medical Board (TMB) and its claims about the handling of complaints against doctors involving COVID-19 treatments.

TMB Director of Operations Chris Palazola told the committee that it had received 1,800 complaints against doctors related to COVID-19. He said the majority were dismissed or resolved by a warning letter. Investigations were opened on 250 of them, but according to Palazola, no license was suspended or revoked based on COVID-19 complaints.

Hall, who has called for reforms to the TMB, pushed back about the board’s investigation of complaints he said were “second, third, or fourth-hand complaints in which you don’t even know if the patient existed.” He expressed concern about the use of finite resources on those kinds of complaints instead of more serious ones like abuse of opioid prescriptions or sexual abuse.

Several doctors, including Bartlett who has promoted the effectiveness of budesonide as a COVID-19 treatment, explained the “confidential” complaints filed against them. The complaints require time and expense by the doctor to respond to or defend.

Perhaps most poignant were the dozens of personal testimonies from residents of Texas who told the committee of the suffering, isolation, and tragedy suffered by themselves or their loved ones due to the COVID-19 pandemic response measures.

Sandy Bittrick, a grandmother from Aledo, recounted a heartwrenching account of her grandson’s suicide. She said the lockdown measures made her nervous to be around people because of her age, so when he called in the spring of 2020 and sounded lonely, she didn’t invite him over to her house like she would have in the past. Little did she know that would be her last conversation with him.

“If I had known what was to transpire in the next few days, I would have willingly given up my life to prevent it,” she said, adding that they couldn’t even have a funeral to mourn his death at the time.

Several senators mentioned working on legislation to address issues raised during the hearing in preparation for the next session in January 2023.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.