The public health officer in Montana’s rural Sanders County, who was forced to resign last week after generating outrage for promoting COVID vaccines and masks over dodgy unproven drugs, fears the role of health officials is teetering dangerously into the political realm.
“It worries me that we are turning the health officer and the board of public health roles into political positions—or they are positions that report to politicians,” Nick Lawyer told The Daily Beast. “Even if the politicians are good politicians, eventually you're going to stop receiving unbiased expert opinion and instead you’ll end up receiving biased opinion.”
Lawyer resigned last week after a vocal community member, Gerald Cuvillier, complained that his 82-year-old wife, who died earlier this month, had not received the anti-parasitic medication ivermectin, or the malaria treatment hydroxychloroquine and wasn’t treated with monoclonal antibodies.
Cuvillier, who once served as Sanders County Republican Central Committee vice chairman, appealed to county health commissioners during a special meeting last week to fire the public health officer, blaming Lawyer for his wife’s death.
“We appealed to you once before about Nick Lawyer on the Board of Health. We asked that you dismiss him and you danced around that point but gave us no satisfaction,” Cuvillier said at the meeting, according to a copy of prepared remarks.
“I do not know who is pulling your strings or putting fear on you to not take the action that we want you to, your fear is unfounded,” he said. “You can do the right thing for once in your lives and discharge this petty tyrant. His rules of protocol just cost my wife her life.”
Cuvillier insisted that if his wife, Beverly Cuvillier, had received the unauthorized treatments “she would be alive and well today.” Federal regulators have cautioned against using ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19.
“I had to watch her die slowly and in agony,” Cuvillier said.
Cuvillier did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
According to Lawyer, commissioners later told him that the meeting, which he had not attended, included roughly 70 people from the local community who demanded “we want Nick gone,” he said.
In a resignation letter Friday at the request of county commissioners, Lawyer, a physician’s assistant at Clark Fork Valley Hospital, said that he was resigning to quell the “the strife and conflict coming from a minority of people objecting” to his health expertise on responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a time where we need evidence-based interventions not anecdote or conspiracy,” he wrote on Twitter after posting the letter.
As requested by the Sanders County Commissioners I have resigned as Health Officer effective immediately.
I am disappointed to leave the board during this time of great need for evidence based health measures.
While this was not my preference I understand the request. pic.twitter.com/Ki4LYsgurq
— Nick Lawyer, PA-C (@nick_lawyer) September 18, 2021
Lawyer told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that he was saddened by the loss of Cuvillier’s wife and could empathize with the pain that he must have felt over the belief that the hospital wasn’t treating her with the right medicines.
“My heart breaks for them,” Lawyer said. “If my mom got admitted to the hospital and instead of giving her oxygen and steroids and fluids they tried to give her ivermectin and vitamin C and activated peptide C I would say, ‘Gosh what are we doing? This is crazy.’ So I can empathize.”
But Lawyer contends that he played no role in telling clinicians how to treat their patients and he’s concerned about what he said is an increase in “aggressive and mean behavior” toward frontline health-care workers.
“I had never met this woman, I had never treated this woman,” Lawyer said. “I have never met her family, no one ever talked to me about her care, in clinical settings, and yet they believe that my actions led to her death.”
The special meeting with commissioners on Wednesday where Cuvillier delivered his impassioned speech came after several previously disrupted meetings by enraged members of the community, Lawyer said.
In addition to lashing out about Lawyer, Cuvillier said that Commissioner Carol Brooker resembled a “public serpent.”
“When I look at you, I do not see a public servant, I see more of a public serpent. When I see you, I see pure evil,” he said.
The meeting Wednesday was followed by a call from commissioners who eventually asked for Lawyer’s resignation. He obliged on Friday.
Brooker, who declined to comment for this story, told the Associated Press on Monday that Lawyer was asked to quit because he had used his station as county health officer to submit a letter to the editor to local newspapers encouraging Montanans to get vaccinated against coronavirus but had not cleared the letter with the county Board of Health first.
Lawyer said that while he had recommended residents get vaccinated “there were no mandates.”
“The commissioners didn't appreciate that I didn't get their approval on sending that letter first,” he said, believing that he was fulfilling his duties to educate the public on health matters in accord with Montana law. “It’s my view that I don't need their approval,” he added.
In a column Lawyer penned in the Flathead Beacon last week, he praised the “safety and effectiveness” of COVID-19 vaccines—something countless county health officials across the country are doing as they struggle to convince holdouts that the vaccines are safe and effective.
“The COVID-19 vaccines are incredibly SAFE and are incredibly EFFECTIVE. If you have not gotten vaccinated yet, do not wait, GO GET VACCINATED,” he wrote in the Sept. 15 column.
Lawyer vowed to keep speaking out and educating the community on COVID-19, but is still wrestling with the unfolding of his sudden departure.
“We are in a moment of a severely strained health system as cases are rising in our community. I feel like a quitter, people need leaders on this subject,” he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only roughly 33 percent of the eligible population in Sanders County has been vaccinated. Meanwhile, the state has reported 1,901 deaths since the start of the pandemic last year, according to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.
“I could have fought, I could have not resigned,” Lawyer added.