Huntsman: Utah hospitals are rationing care while public officials favor friends, donors

Paul Huntsman writes there are many unanswered questions about Utah’s pandemic response.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A TestUtah facility alongside Utah Valley Pediatrics, Orem, Feb. 6, 2021.

This past Sunday, The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board published an editorial documenting the complete surrender to the COVID pandemic by the state’s policymakers. The editorial coincided with Utah’s largest health providers, Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health, announcing a rationing of care and services.

More alarming, some of our schools are returning to remote learning because teachers are getting COVID at unprecedented rates and classrooms can’t find enough substitutes. Our children are once more deprived of a substantive education and their parents are forced to ration work and, possibly, paychecks.

It’s unthinkable that after two years of this pandemic, we are essentially back where we were at the start of this affliction in the spring of 2020.

At the conclusion of The Tribune editorial, we referenced the role of the National Guard as a lever to ensure schools, hospitals and employment remain fully open and functioning. The governor and his political allies immediately seized on this hyperbole in order to mask their abandonment in leadership.

Utahns pride themselves on being kind, trusting and deferential to authority. It has been embedded in our culture since Mormon pioneers arrived in the valley in 1847. As much as I take pride in including myself in this culture, that unquestioning attitude has led to unfettered fraud and abuse.

The lack of any effective opposition party, parched news media operations and an absence of transparency from major institutions have put the responsibility on The Tribune and others to be the guard dog which watches over power brokers and institutions that Utah residents rely on for leadership and stewardship to guarantee their wellbeing.

As it relates to the pandemic, it seems there are two Utahs. One is devoted to world-class medical and biotechnology research, aerospace and defense, horticulture science and sustainable recreation to solve intractable problems and helping our lives. The other, much smaller Utah dedicates its time for taking — taking money, taking credit and taking advantage of those who loyally love this state. This group compensates for its lack of numbers with power.

This past year, I disclosed a specialized investigative unit that I funded, called Jittai (Japanese for “truth”). It is independent from The Tribune. To date, we have collected more than 10,000 public documents, dozens of whistleblower complaints, recordings and other interviews from federal and foreign agencies underscoring how we do business in Utah.

While Jittai is still litigating with state agencies in Utah and two other states, the documents we’ve secured so far paint an alarming picture of state and federal officials favoring the interests of their donors and business partners over the health and well-being of the communities they were elected to serve.

To date, our state still is refusing to release documents related to this pandemic, including, but not limited to, documents detailing the state’s adoption of an obsolete Chinese-made test, restyled as a “TestUtah” initiative and marketed as “disruptive healthcare.”

The public should know why we bypassed Utah’s own diagnostic firms, such as our crown jewel of ARUP and BioFire Diagnostic, and dedicated our precious resources and time to a nascent start up with nothing but a dated Chinese flu test. Who profited, and was our data trafficked? Questions abound. Answers are nowhere to be heard.

The moral outrage of The Tribune’s provocative editorials needs to be followed up by a demand from Utahns that our elected officials be held accountable. We will not stop asking these uncomfortable questions and seeking the truth from those responsible until there is an accounting.

It’s one thing to throw our arms up and claim there is nothing else one can do about the pandemic. It is quite another to camouflage policy decisions, records and treatments used to combat it. It is time for policymakers to come clean.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Paul Huntsman.

Paul Huntsman is chair of The Salt Lake Tribune Board of Directors.