COO of Bristol Bay health corporation abruptly removed after suggesting a COVID-19 conspiracy theory

Mar 31, 2020

A top official at Bristol Bay’s regional health corporation sent an email to other managers this month promoting the falsehood that the coronavirus pandemic is no worse than the flu and is part of a political conspiracy. As of Monday, the official no longer works at the corporation.

The welcome sign outside of Kanakanak Hospital. Oct. 29, 2018.
Credit KDLG/Isabelle Ross

The March 16 email subject line is “Do NOT PANIC”. It’s addressed to managers at the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation. In it, the health corporation’s former Chief Operating Officer Lecia Scotford questions the gravity of the coronavirus crisis. Scotford also points to prior health crises that took place during even-numbered years. Because those are election years, she suggests without evidence that this is a political conspiracy. 

In the email, she writes, "This is not political.......or is it???? Since all these years have been election years. Just a reminder that FLU kills many every year! Common sense and good hygiene are important always, virus or no virus."

Several local leaders have said they’re outraged by Scotford’s claims, and called on the health corporation to take corrective measures. 

In a letter to the health corporation’s CEO and the board chair, First Chief Thomas Tilden of the Curyung Tribal Council writes, "What appears to us to be absolute ignorance and blatant arrogance by BBAHC’s COO, jeopardizes the welfare of every patient, provider and employee of BBAHC as well as the general public of Dillingham and greater Bristol Bay."

The tribe is currently in the process of withdrawing from the health corporation, in part over concerns about the hospital’s management and patient care. It held its final mediation session with BBAHC’s full board earlier this month. 

Tilden also says Scotford did not adhere to the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine after returning from Florida and Seattle. Instead, Tilden’s email says, Scotford reported to work at Kanakanak Hospital in Dillingham on March 23. 

A March 16 email from former COO Lecia Scotford to managers of the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation promoting the falsehood that the coronavirus pandemic is no worse than the flu and is part of a political conspiracy.
Credit KDLG file

Norm Van Vactor is a Dillingham resident and CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. In an email to the health corporation, he wrote, "This type of messaging in the middle of the Health Crisis of our generation is just NOT ACCEPTABLE and I condemn it."

Scotford’s employment was terminated abruptly Monday. Robert Clark, the President and CEO of BBAHC, declined to say why he ended Scotford’s tenure at the hospital.                                                                                        

Clark confirmed that Scotford was traveling out of state and returned to work on March 23. But he said it was before the governor’s mandate went into effect. 

“We obtained input from our medical staff before she was permitted to come to work on March 23. She wore a mask and stayed in her office. She was isolated from other employees and her office is far from any patient care areas of the hospital,” he said.

According to Clark, a member of the medical staff suggested Scotford work from home, and she left the hospital premises to do so. Clark wouldn’t comment on Scotford’s March 16 email. 

He will be the acting chief of operations until the corporation hires a new officer.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200