Kansas senator under investigation after prescribing ivermectin for COVID-19, seeks legal cover

By: - January 26, 2022 12:58 pm

Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, appears after a committee hearing Wednesday at the Statehouse in Topeka regarding his proposed legislation allowing doctors like himself to prescribe drugs for off-label use to treat COVID-19. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Sen. Mark Steffen revealed Wednesday he is under investigation after prescribing ivermectin to COVID-19 patients, accused the chief medical director of the University of Kansas Health System of spreading propaganda, and challenged him to a public debate.

Steffen, a Republican and anesthesiologist from Hutchinson, introduced legislation that would give himself and other doctors the authority to treat COVID-19 patients with ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine without fear of reprimand. He prevented Senate Bill 381 from being published until late Monday night, then complained that a hearing was postponed Tuesday morning because it gave “the media a 24-hour head start.”

About 60 individuals attended the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday to support Steffen and his proposed bill. The model legislation, which also has been introduced in Tennessee, would require pharmacists to fill prescriptions for the off-label use of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, even though health authorities say the drugs are ineffective in treating COVID-19 and could be harmful. Steffen said he intends to amend a provision in the bill that, as currently written, would grant doctors immunity from civil liability for any damages caused by the drugs.

The bill also would overturn any disciplinary action already taken against physicians for prescribing the drugs and block future discipline. Steffen said he has prescribed ivermectin to patients and has been under investigation by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts for a year and a half.

“They clearly have no interest in resolving it,” Steffen said. “They’re using it to hold over me to think they’re going to silence me as I serve as a state senator. And obviously, that’s not working out for them. None of it is patient-based complaints. It’s all what I’ve said in the public and what I said as a county commissioner. I stand by everything I said. And again, we’ve got board overreach that desperately needs to be put under control.”

Steffen walked away from reporters after the hearing when pressed for details about the investigation and his treatment of patients.

“It’s an ongoing investigation,” Steffen said to reporters. “I’m not going to comment further at this time. But I would welcome the Board of Healing Arts to have an open investigation. I would love to bring the data and have a real discussion. Because what they’re flying on is empty broad stroke brushes and a lack of scientific data. I’m happy to have a debate with them anytime.”

In remarks before the committee, Steffen referred to Steve Stites, chief medical officer of the KU Health System, as the “Fauci of Kansas.” Steffen said Stites spreads “propaganda” through his daily news briefings about COVID-19, and challenged Stites to join him in a public forum on the topic in Hays.

More than 50 people attended the hearing, laughing and jeering at any mention that vaccines are safe and effective. Several medical professionals testified about their personal efforts to prescribe drugs for off-label uses to treat COVID-19.

“With a moo moo here and an oink oink there and a neigh neigh there, what life-saving treatment can Kansas farm animals get right now that Kansas humans cannot? Ivermectin,” said Amy Hogan, who runs her own practice in Salina.

Hogan said she received a notice from the Board of Healing Arts that she has prescribed dangerously high doses of ivermectin. She was turned in by a pharmacist, Hogan said, “who was essentially practicing medicine on my patients without a license.”

“I was turned in for purely political reasons,” Hogan said. “This should not be allowed.”

Festus Krebs III told a Senate health panel it is cruel and insane to deny patients access to controversial drugs before they are hospitalized. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Festus Krebs III, a doctor from Johnson County, said it is “medical insanity and incredibly cruel” that hospitals, health care systems and licensing boards are forcing medical providers to tell patients that there is no effective treatment before being hospitalized with a ventilator.

“There is no integrity left in medicine,” Krebs said. “I don’t trust my own physician. We don’t trust our physicians. I don’t know why this is happening. I don’t know why standard of care is brought up like this. There is no standard of care. The problem is omicron is an extremely contagious virus.”

Jesse Lopez, a surgeon from Overland Park who appeared before the committee wearing scrubs, said he was testifying at great risk of retaliation for taking a stand on behalf of his patients. He said doctors who support Steffen’s bill don’t intend to use the drugs instead of a vaccine but as additional weapons in the fight with a deadly disease.

“We are utilizing a tool out of our trauma chest kit to help our patients,” Lopez said.

Andrea Erickson, right, evoked Nazi propaganda artist Joseph Goebbels during her testimony, in which she talked about the death of her unvaccinated grandmother from COVID-19. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Andrea Erickson told lawmakers her unvaccinated grandmother died from COVID-19 on Jan. 22 in Topeka. She wondered why it was OK for doctors to give her grandmother antibiotics, steroids, psychiatric medications and morphine — a concoction that left her confused and lethargic — but not ivermectin.

Erickson blamed mainstream media for demonizing ivermectin, and quoted infamous Nazi propaganda artist Joseph Goebbels about the power of repeating a big lie.

The overarching issue, she said, is a spiritual one.

“We have to stand up for truth,” Erickson said. “We can’t hide behind fear. We need to start asking why. That’s how people wake up. They sit there and they ask why. They use their critical thinking, their God-given intelligence to ask questions.”

The Kansas Department for Health and Environment on Wednesday reported 52 more deaths from COVID-19 since Monday, as well 141 new hospitalizations. The number of Kansas deaths attributed to the virus throughout the pandemic is 7,388.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.