Dear Kansas Board of Healing Arts: This doctor-senator is a threat to public health

Kansas Sen. Mark Steffen frequently touts his medical credentials. (Jan. 26, 2021, 2021 photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Dear Kansas Board of Healing Arts:

I’m filing a complaint about Mark Steffen, an anesthesiologist, who frequently touts his medical credentials in his new role as a state senator from Hutchinson.

I understand you are empowered to receive complaints from “patients, family members, interested parties, medical staff, co-workers, medical facilities, licensees, or insurance companies.”

Consider me an interested party. If my name is familiar, that’s because this is the second complaint I’ve written in my capacity as Kansas Reflector’s opinion editor (my first one concerned then-Congressman, now Sen. Roger Marshall). Somebody has to do it.

I understand complaints “must pertain to the practice of the healing arts, and must allege facts constituting a violation of the laws administered by the Board.”

Chapter 65, article 2836, says a doctor’s “license may be revoked, suspended or limited,” or the doctor “may be publicly censured or placed under probationary conditions” for, among other things, committing “an act of unprofessional or dishonorable conduct or professional incompetency.”

Steffen has demonstrated unprofessional and dishonorable conduct. He is a danger to public health.

The most recent example is his Senate Bill 213, which would prohibit employers from taking adverse action against employees who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine, and would impose a $1,000 fine for employers who violate the restriction. As the Board of Healing Arts undoubtedly knows, courts agree that employers can mandate vaccinations, with reasonable accommodations.

Steffen’s anti-vaccine crusade undermines current state and national efforts to fight the pandemic. His testimony during a Feb. 25 committee hearing was openly antagonistic to public health principles.

“A large population of our society is at a very, very small risk of an adverse outcome from contracting and recovering from COVID-19,” Steffen said of the virus that has killed more than half a million people in the United States.

“In fact,” he said, “it’s far more likely that the vaccine won’t do anything for you — it won’t convey any immunity to you,” he said.

He warned his fellow senators that opponents of his bill would “look at this from a societal standpoint” — as if that were problematic.

“I’m up here as a senator to represent individuals. That’s completely different than providing medical care to society,” he said. While acknowledging that “vaccines do help protect society,” Steffen argued “that means you’re going to sacrifice a few individuals in the process.”

 

Besides making political speeches in blatant disregard of public health principles, Steffen has conducted himself in an unprofessional manner through open hostility to other public health professionals.

This includes Hutchinson physicians and Reno County health department workers, specifically during meetings of Reno County Commission, where Steffen served briefly in November and December 2020, when he championed essential oils and hydroxychloroquine.

“There are regimens out there,” Steffen said. “They’re not proven science, but they’re hope. And they can be done safely. It beats the heck out of the taxpayer-funded fear campaign.”

Additionally, by referring to the coronavirus as the “China virus,” Steffen has deployed discriminatory language that has reportedly contributed to an increase in violence against Asian Americans. One example of this is an email sent to the office of Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, referencing a bi-weekly conference call with lawmakers, in which they are invited to submit questions.

Steffen also appears to be in violation of Chapter 65, Article 2837, where “professional incompetency” includes “conduct likely to deceive, defraud or harm the public.”

His Feb. 25 testimony to the Commerce Committee was “conduct likely to deceive” the public, when Steffen said of the coronavirus vaccine: “they skip the phase three trials.”

This is not true. Pfizer concluded the third phase of its clinical trial in November 2020. Preliminary results from Moderna’s Phase 3 trial were announced in December.

His also used disingenuous rhetoric to stir up fear about the safety of vaccines by making reference to a 1986 law providing compensation to people who have been injured by vaccines. To date, Steffen noted, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has paid out more than $4 billion in awards. While $4 billion is a staggering amount of money, even over the course of more than 30 years, Steffen distorted the danger to public health by failing to provide context easily found in the Health Resources & Services Administration’s fact sheet (emphasis mine):

In summary, Steffen has conducted himself in an unprofessional manner.

For this, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts should suspend his medical license.

If the board deems this action too extreme, I request at least a public censure and the requirement that Steffen cease and desist touting his medical credentials while advocating on behalf of dangerous legislation while in public office.

Respectfully,

An interested party