By Larry Stovall
McCurtain Memorial Hospital locked down for the third time in around two weeks on Monday after a caller threatened to shoot hospital staff for denying care to a McCurtain County Jail inmate, according to a statement from MMH CEO Brian Whitfield.
“I want to make it abundantly clear,” Whitfield said. “MMH has not and will not ever deny medical treatment to anyone. Our emergency room is open 24 hours per day, seven days per week and we see as many as 15,000 visits per year to this hospital.”
“We have, for over half a century, provided healthcare to this community and that includes inmates in the county jail. We do not see color, even if it is orange, when medical emergencies or requests for routine treatment are presented to us.”
The threat, Whitfield said, stemmed from an incident at the jail where an inmate yelled out a jail window that he needed medical treatment. The man was allegedly heard by nearby protestors, who had gathered in the area calling for the resignation of McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, Sheriff’s investigator Captain Alicia Manning, and McCurtain County Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix.
Clardy, Manning and Hendrix, along with former District 2 County Commissioner Mark Jennings, were captured on tape by McCurtain Gazette News publisher Bruce Willingham in an allegedly illegal meeting on March 6. The recording proved extremely controversial and allegedly included discussion of murdering Willingham and his son Chris, references to lynching black men and others.
Jennings has since resigned his position, while Clardy, Manning and Hendrix have not.
According to Whitfield, shortly after the man shouted at protestors, the hospital’s emergency room began receiving calls asking why “the hospital” was refusing to see the inmate. Whitfield said at that time, and when his later press release was prepared, no calls for medical treatment on behalf of the inmate had been received and the inmate had not been brought to the hospital for treatment.
Around 3 p.m., Whitfield described, another call was received by the emergency room, this time containing a threat to gun down hospital staff for refusing treatment to the inmate.
Law enforcement was notified immediately and the hospital was placed on hard lockdown, Whitfield said.
Officers from the Idabel Police Department, Oklahoma Highway Patrol and other agencies responded to the hospital to ensure staff and patient safety, Whitfield said. No threat materialized.
Call to Hendrix
Whitfield said that after the threat had been received, he contacted Hendrix and told the jail administrator of the calls the hospital was receiving and that it was being communicated (allegedly by jail employees, Whitfield said), that the hospital was refusing to provide the inmate treatment.
Hendrix, Whitfield said, replied that he was “very much aware” of the inmate in question and said that the jail nurse would call Whitfield back.
“My number was taken, and I was informed that someone would return the call,” Whitfield said. “That has not happened as of the time of release of this statement (shortly after 6 p.m. Monday).”
Whitfield said that Idabel Police Chief John Martin called Hendrix as well, suggesting that the hospital was willing to evaluate the inmate if he could be transported to the hospital. That call, Whitfield said, ended with Martin also being told that the jail nurse would call the hospital.
Whitfield said he received another call from Hendrix later in the evening, where Hendrix said he was not going to “bend” to demands that the inmate be brought to the hospital for treatment. Whitfield said that Hendrix again said that the jail nurse would contact him, but that still had not occurred as of 6 p.m. Monday.
“The jail contracts with a third-party contractor for medical treatment and we have been informed that the jail has had this inmate evaluated,” Whitfield said. “We were offered, with a signed consent, (the opportunity) to review the inmate’s medical records, which I declined. The hospital has no business in this inmate’s medical record.”
“Our only interest is ensuring that the public is not misinformed that the hospital denied this gentleman treatment and that he does not in face need treatment that we can provide,” Whitfield said.
“We have made every attempt today to see this inmate in our emergency room to first ensure that no medical emergency exists and second, to ensure the public that this inmate is not in need of emergent care. If needed, we will provide the care he needs,” Whitfield also said.
McCurtain Memorial Hospital had already implemented strict security procedures on Thursday after a caller to the hospital told staff that there was a bomb on the premises, forcing the hospital to evacuate.
A very similar bomb threat took place on April 18, which also required evacuation and a search of the building.
No device was found following either incident, though Whitfield, in a statement release late last week, noted the real-life effects the threat had caused, including to a patient and family undergoing an end-of-life situation and to a patient with a potential cardiac emergency.
Whitfield’s comments on that incident were published in the Saturday-Sunday edition of the McCurtain Weekend Gazette-News.