Friday, October 22 2021

By JUDE JOFFE-BLOCK and ALI SWENSON, Associated Press

A press conference held by doctors in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida to urge the public to get vaccinated amid a statewide wave of COVID-19 has been undermined online because false reports claimed that the doctors had quit their jobs.

Doctors who attended Monday’s event told The Associated Press they had neither quit their jobs nor refused to treat patients. The false statements, they said, led to threats and harassment towards their colleagues and hospitals.

Here is an overview of the facts surrounding this event.

CLAIM: A group of 75 doctors in Florida have quit their jobs to protest the number of unvaccinated patients plaguing state hospitals.

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THE FACTS: No, that’s not true. The press conference was held before office hours and was aimed at encouraging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear masks, according to doctors who attended. It was not a demonstration or a walkout.

MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” covered the press conference early Monday morning with a misleading caption on screen: “SOUTHERN FLORIDA DOCTORS GO OUT IN PROTEST.”

The network said on air Tuesday morning that the doctors had not quit their jobs, but users of social media and other media had already learned the language. Some have criticized the doctors for allegedly refusing treatment.

“RUPTURE REPORT: Over 75 Doctors ARE LEAVING SOUTHERN FLORIDA HOSPITAL rather than treating the unvaccinated,” read a widely shared tweet.

Dr Jennifer Buczyner, a neurologist who hosted the press conference, said she was frustrated by the false claim.

“This was a medically-led press conference to encourage our community to get vaccinated and to talk about the impact this has had on our community,” Buczyner told the AP in an e- mail.

Indeed, an e-mail sent to doctors inviting them to participate did not use the words “protest” or “walkout”. Instead, the email, which was reviewed by the AP, urged local medical staff to attend a “community ‘Get the Vaccine’ event” that would be covered by the media. He said the purpose of the event was “to encourage our community to get vaccinated and take it seriously.”

The event took place in the parking lot of a doctor’s office and was hosted by doctors, but included the participation of management and staff from a number of local hospitals. It came as Florida saw more than 21,000 new COVID-19 cases added per day in mid-August. According to federal government figures, 16,820 people were hospitalized in Florida with the disease on Tuesday, up from a record high of over 17,000 last week.

Buczyner, who is the director of stroke at Jupiter Medical Center, said the press conference ended at 7:15 a.m. and she saw 25 patients afterwards. She said some doctors came to the press conference after working 12-hour shifts or just before their shift started.

Dr Naveen Reddy, a gastroenterologist in Jupiter, Fla., Said he attended the press conference and was on time to perform an endoscopy at 7:30 a.m. thereafter. “So there wasn’t even a delay in care,” Reddy said. He said he continued to see patients in his office, several more in a surgical center, and then visited two hospitals.

Shelly Weiss Friedberg, director of public relations at Tenet Healthcare, which operates Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, confirmed that the press conference was not a hospital event or a walkout.

Doctors “organized the event at 6 a.m. before office hours so it wouldn’t interfere with patient visits,” she said.

Buczyner said the poor description of the event diluted the press conference’s goal of encouraging vaccinations and led to harassment.

“Hospitals and our offices are getting hate calls,” Buczyner said. “It was supposed to be a sincere, positive message. “

MSNBC did not respond to an email request for comment.

This is part of AP’s efforts to tackle widely shared misinformation, including working with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to the deceptive content circulating online. Learn more about fact checking at AP.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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