Mark Steffen’s grotesque buffoonery has put Kansans in danger as new COVID-19 wave approaches

April 8, 2022 11:30 am
Kansas Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, attends a hearing on Feb. 21, 2022, at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, attends a hearing on Feb. 21, 2022, at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Dear Kansas Board of Healing Arts:

The time has arrived. Come get your boy.

That’s right, Kansas Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, has managed to shimmy under the already incredibly low bar he previously set. He’s taken his campaign against effective treatment for COVID-19  to his fellow health care providers, all but threatening them in your name.

In case you forgot, earlier this legislative session the anesthesiologist confirmed you were investigating him and worked to pass an “ivermectin amnesty” bill protecting doctors who prescribed worthless treatments for COVID-19. He popped up at events spreading misinformation about the virus.

Thankfully, even though it passed the Senate, that amnesty bill wasn’t taken up by the House before the end of the regular session last week. Barring some unforeseen developments in the veto session later this month, that means it’s as dead as the proverbial door nail.

That might have stopped other men. Those with any sense of ethics.

Steffen is not other men.

Nope, instead he dashed off an ominous message on Senate letterhead and mailed it to 250 Kansas health care providers. He insinuated that ivermectin was not only an option for providers, but one they should take. He also — and this is the most important thing — suggested his pet legislation was now binding law.

“With the recent passage of Senate substitute for HB 2280 by the Kansas Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee and subsequently the Senate as a whole, there is no reason to think that prescribing problems will arise from pharmacist or Board of Healing Arts interference,” the senator wrote. “In consultation with the legal community, indications are that ‘failure to treat’ will now be considered ‘wanton disregard.’ As such, any perceived statutory immunity will be rendered invalid.

“Providing care to the ill is difficult yet rewarding when done correctly and with a patient­-first approach. I wish you the very best as our treatment of Covid becomes more sophisticated.”

Against all reason, Mark Steffen has anointed himself the protector of self-righteous quacks and wants to turn the state’s medical community into snake-oil salesmen.

– Clay Wirestone

My illustrious predecessor as opinion editor, C.J. Janovy, wrote you a letter about Steffen a little more than a year ago. Her concerns were more than justified.

“Steffen has demonstrated unprofessional and dishonorable conduct. He is a danger to public health,” Janovy wrote.

Who could have imagined we would be talking about the same man and the same unprofessional and dishonorable conduct in April 2022? I decided to write a letter of my own in January, when anyone following along could see that Steffen’s buffoonery had mutated into grotesque egomania. Now, against all reason, he has anointed himself the protector of self-righteous quacks and wants to turn the state’s medical community into snake-oil salesmen.

To his lasting shame, Attorney General Derek Schmidt has provided cover for ivermectin enthusiasts with a recent opinion requested by Senate President Ty Masterson. The document says “nothing in Kansas or federal law prohibits the off-label prescribing of FDA approved drugs such as ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19.”

Of course not. On the other hand, the government shouldn’t require doctors to prescribe useless or potentially harmful drugs. And study after study, time and again, has shown that Steffen’s preferred treatments do nothing to fight the virus.

I can’t tell all of you what the Board of Healing Arts should do in this situation. I can tell you, however, that ongoing silence in this case has emboldened Steffen to harm public trust in actual safe and effective methods to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Those would be vaccines.

You have no time to waste. Another pandemic wave approaches, and once again the public in Kansas and the United States appears woefully unprepared. Steffen’s persistence in spreading discredited and downright harmful misinformation will leave our communities weaker and sicker than they would be otherwise.

Please, for the sake of your fellow Kansans, do your work without delay.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.