While most people who call the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center seeking an appointment for a drive-through COVID-19 test have to wait a few days for the next opening, the hospital has offered some “VIP” same-day test.
But even though some of those slots were denied for first responders and the hospital’s own doctors, Gov. Kevin Stitt’s parents were given same-day appointments when they called following their son’s positive test results last month, according to documents reviewed by The Frontier.
Officials with the OU Health Sciences Center denied the use of a VIP process, but employees who make appointments for callers regularly referred to “VIP” openings and communicated with supervisors about who may qualify, according to transcripts of an internal messaging system reviewed by The Frontier.
On July 7, a call center worker asked about a firefighter who was worried he might have COVID-19 and wanted a quick test in order to get back to work.
“Shall I make a VIP test for him? He worries he might get his entire fire station sick,” the worker asked their supervisor, according to a transcript of an internal chat, the authenticity of which was confirmed by multiple employees.
“That is not what the VIP function is for,” the supervisor wrote back.
On July 15, another worker asked about scheduling a “VIP test” for a doctor. “I think she’s a doctor at our hospital,” the worker wrote, referring to OU Medical Center.
“We won’t schedule a VIP unless directed by the clinic staff or a technician error on our part,” the supervisor responded. “We should not even mention this as a possibility to callers.”
But 10 minutes later, a supervisor ordered a same-day appointment for John and Joyce Stitt, the governor’s parents, utilizing one of the “VIP” slots, according to multiple sources and documents reviewed by The Fronter.
John confirmed the test to The Frontier and said he mentioned who his son was when he called because the governor had recently announced he tested positive for COVID-19.
John said the previous day, before he knew about his son’s positive test, he visited with a family in Mustang to purchase a car. When the governor’s positive test was announced the next day, the family called him with concern because a member of their family had a health risk.
John said he called the state’s COVID-19 testing hotline and asked for the next available test because of the family’s concern.
“I called 211 and they gave me a list of about six different places to call to get a test,” John told The Frontier. “I called the first one and they said they couldn’t test me until next week.
“I called the 211 number back and said here’s my situation … is there any way possible I could get tested today? The person called me back and said to go to OU at 2:45 p.m. that same day.”
A supervisor contacted test schedulers and said John and his wife should be given two “VIP” same-day testing appointments, according to multiple sources.
John told The Frontier he insisted on an immediate test but never sought special treatment because of his son.
“I told them who I was but I did nothing wrong, I don’t even know why this is a story,” John said.
The governor’s office criticized the release of his father’s testing information.
“OU Medicine is taking the right steps to conduct a thorough internal investigation into who may have released a patient’s private information after receiving health services at one of its campuses,” said Charlie Hannema, a spokesperson for Gov. Stitt.
“More than ever before, Oklahomans need to feel their private health records are safe and are not being shared or reviewed for political gain.”
Officials with OU Health Sciences Center, which contracts with the state Department of Health to administer COVID-19 tests in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, would not comment on the specific test of an individual. But in an emailed statement they said same-day tests are sometimes possible because of cancelations.
“We track daily how many individuals scheduled for a drive-through COVID-19 test cancel or do not show, currently about 20%,” said Dr. Melissa Craft, a clinical nurse specialist and volunteer testing coordinator for the OU Health Sciences Center. “We work to fill these same-day openings, considering factors such as symptoms; occupation as a physician, nurse, or other essential worker; risk of exposure to COVID; or risk to be a super-spreader in our community. Our public health goals include reducing spread of the virus and helping Oklahomans get back to work.”
One day after The Frontier first asked about the VIP testing procedures, a source said supervisors at OU Medicine told call center employees it would no longer be an available option.
“The boss was like, ‘We are getting rid of the VIP testing (spots) because there is some concern we are giving special treatment to people,’” said an employee, who is not being identified because they were told not to speak with the media.
The source said employees were told a “daily reserve” of tests would only be used if a caller was mistakenly scheduled for a test in a city they did not live in, which would create an opening.
Employees of the call center did not independently put people on the VIP list, according to sources, but would only do so when a supervisor said a name should be added.
Craft was identified as one of the supervisors who would order a same-day test, according to a source.
In her statement, Craft said the lab typically returns test results within 24 to 48 hours, and individuals with negative test results are notified within 24 to 48 hours afterward.
John Stitt said he and his wife had not yet received their test results as of Monday, 20 days after their test. (Editor’s note: After this story was published, Gov. Stitt told reporters his parent’s COVID-19 test results had been emailed to them weeks ago but they did not see it. He said they both tested negative.)
The governor announced his positive COVID-19 test on July 15.
“I was pretty shocked that I was the first governor to get it (coronavirus),” Stitt said when he announced his positive test last month.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, testing was severely limited across the state. In recent months testing has significantly increased and Stitt has encouraged any Oklahoman who wants a test to get one.
Since June, positive COVID-19 cases have increased significantly, with 6.7 percent of tests coming back positive.
At least 566 people have died as of Aug. 4, according to the state Department of Health.