A Republican lawmaker in Alaska reportedly harassed hospital officials to administer the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin to a COVID-19 patient—and even claimed to have power to make medical decisions for the patient— before the man died on Wednesday.
William Topel, a well-known figure in Anchorage’s conservative circles, had been a frequent opponent of public health measures intended to curb the pandemic and regularly showed up at Anchorage Assembly meetings to voice his defiance.
However, he was admitted to a local hospital with COVID symptoms late last week, longtime friend Terrence Shanigan told The Daily Beast on Thursday, not long after he attended an Assembly meeting that involved swarms of unmasked protesters challenging a proposed mask ordinance.
Shanigan, the legislative affairs director for Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, said that Topel’s condition had “progressed quite a bit” by the time he got to Providence Alaska Medical Center after initially seeking monoclonal antibodies treatment. “He passed out,” Shanigan said, and was rushed to the hospital by a retired nurse.
As the Alaska Landmine first reported, Anchorage Assembly Member Jamie Allard and her supporters quickly began demanding that the hospital treat Topel with ivermectin, a drug that is not proven to treat COVID but has been touted as a miracle cure by the far-right.
Another friend of Topel’s, Michael Chambers, who had posted periodic updates on Facebook said that the hospital had denied Topel’s request for the drug.
Mikal Canfield, a spokesperson for Providence, told The Daily Beast that the hospital did not allow the drug as treatment for the virus.
“Based on a preponderance of evidence and guidelines from multiple national authorities, Providence Alaska Medical Center does not use Ivermectin to treat COVID-19,” he wrote in an email.
But that didn’t stop Allard and her supporters from continuing to rally for the unproven treatment.
A source told the Landmine that Allard and others kept at it “for days,” and continued “harassing nurses, doctors, and hospital administrators, compromising their ability to provide medical care for other patients.”
The campaign grew as ivermectin proponents distributed a flyer demanding that Gov. Mike Dunleavy get involved and push the hospital to let Topel try the drug. The flyer quickly circulated in local conservative Facebook groups.
Allard and friends of Topel eventually tried to get him transferred to another hospital in the hope he could access the treatment elsewhere.
As Topel’s condition worsened, three people, including Shanigan, were denied entry to visit him in the hospital.
In an email, Canfield confirmed some of the details of the trio’s effort to get into the hospital but would not confirm any identities because they had not been asked for identification.
He said security were alerted to “three individuals attempting to enter the hospital via one of the screening stations” at about 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 9. Employees who were screening visitors had expressed concerns because the group had “asked questions about hospital policies regarding weapons and patient visitation.”
According to Canfield, when the group was denied entry due to its visitation policies, they began using their phones to take photos and videos, and then proceeded to other hospital entrances where they were again seen “attempting to gain access” while taking additional images on their devices.
When asked by security to leave, they did so without incident, Canfield said.
He confirmed that the state’s largest hospital, which began rationing treatment for the virus last month, had received calls from people requesting ivermectin.
“We don’t have any way of knowing the identity of the people calling, but many of the phone calls are from people who are upset with the hospital for not using ivermectin to treat patients with COVID-19,” he wrote.
Shanigan told The Daily Beast that he and a friend showed up at the hospital to drop off a phone charger at Topel’s request. The pair encountered a local activist Dustin Darden, who told them he’d tried to visit Topel. He can be seen in a video posted to Facebook at the hospital. The group went on a “prayer walk” around the hospital, Shanigan said. He said he was not carrying a weapon but said he was disturbed that hospital staff asked him about weapons before asking if he had COVID symptoms—something that he felt wouldn’t have been a concern pre-pandemic.
Just two days later, an Anchorage attorney, Mario Bird, sent a letter to the hospital, claiming that Topel had given Allard the right to “make medical decisions” on his behalf and that she had urged the hospital to give him ivermectin, according to a copy of the letter he shared with the conservative news site The Alaska Watchman.
Bird did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on Thursday, but according to portions of the letter he claimed that “upon asserting her right to make medical decisions for Mr. Topel, [Allard] was told by hospital staff that she ‘doesn’t really have that right.’”
According to the outlet, Bird also wrote that “Providence staff continues to refuse Ms. Allard or Mr. Topel’s friends and family to visit him in the hospital.”
In an email Thursday, Allard declined a request for comment from The Daily Beast writing: “No, I will not discuss my friend with you.”
Shanigan said it was difficult to fight with hospital policy on authorized treatment.
“If the hospital has a policy, and the doctor is making a call on policy—the doctor certainly isn't going to go against policy,” he said. “These are private institutions and they have rules that they live by and that’s their limitation too.”
“As much as I want to support Bill and his wishes of choice, and liberty, we also need to be mindful about where we go,” he added.
As the bizarre battle between Topel’s supporters and the hospital went on, Topel’s condition deteriorated and he died on Wednesday, according to friends and local reports. A GoFundMe page was organized to pay for funeral expenses.
Another friend of Topel’s, Theresa Streeter, told The Daily Beast that she was heartbroken over the death. “He was a dear friend and such a good soul,” she wrote in a Facebook message.
She said she had joined a group who stood outside of the hospital on Wednesday with a sign that read: “Providence took your life but we are here to honor you, in memory of Bill Topel.”
According to Streeter, the calls for Topel to be transferred to another hospital stemmed from Providence “refusing the treatment that Bill and his doctor had requested.”
“Pretty much within hours he was in a coma and our friend was gone before we could say goodbye,” she wrote.
Canfield said in a statement that in cases where family members or others call and demand a specific treatment, “our caregivers emphasize the high-quality, evidence-based care we provide and that there is no clear or good evidence that suggests these alternative treatments are safe or effective.”
“Caregivers also explain that in some cases—as in the use of ivermectin—there are also many potential risks, and that is why we do not use it for treating patients with COVID-19,” he wrote.