By CHRISTIAN KNIGHT
News staff writer
Fluoride Fact # 21: On April 6, the Hood River Healthy Water Committee published a $9, one-inch advertisement in the Hood River News. The ad erroneously asserted Gorge Ecumenical Ministries (GEM), Hood River County Health Department and the Mid-Columbia Children's Council endorse fluoride.
The truth is that none of the organizations endorsed the pro-fluoride campaign. GEM board members refused endorsement at a March 3 board meeting, despite the arguments of Healthy Water members Dr. Linda De Sitter and Dr. Kyle House.
“They (Dr. De Sitter and Dr. House) asked that GEM lend its name to those trying to pass legislation to this end, giving their reasons,” GEM's March 3 meeting minutes state. “They learned that GEM, because it represents a variety of churches and their memberships, finds it difficult to take positions on such community matters.”
Tom Penchoen, secretary of GEM, was reading the April 6 edition of the Hood River News when he noticed “Fluoride Fact No. 12.” -- an ad in a series of 20 fluoride fact ads the Healthy Water Commission has been running in the Hood River News for the past few weeks.
“I had been at the meeting, as the secretary of GEM,” he said. “There was absolutely no doubt about the decision. They were looking for our endorsement. We said we don't feel that is possible. We represent too many churches and too many members within the churches. We don't take positions until we consult those members.'”
Ellen Larsen, director of Hood River County Health Department, said the health department can't endorse a political side, despite the personal opinions of those who work for it. That endorsement, by law, hinges on a vote by the county commissioners.
And so far, Larsen said, the commissioners have not voted on whether or not to endorse water fluoridation.
“I don't know how it got there,” Larsen said. “I couldn't tell you where they came up with deciding that they would put that in.”
That GEM did not endorse the water fluoridation campaign shocked Healthy Water Commission members Dr. Charles Haynie and Dr. House.
“Something was misunderstood,” House said regarding the GEM endorsement. “They never called to tell us something was wrong.”
House says he remembers asking GEM's president 'So you're endorsing this?' just before leaving the March 3 meeting.
“And they said yes,” House said.
Whether or not the county health department actually endorsed fluoride might be a matter of semantics.
Haynie had in October appealed to County Commission chair Rodger Schock, County Administrator Dave Meriwether, and finally, health department director Larsen several times to compose a letter of support for the water fluoridation cause.
On Nov. 8, 2004, Larsen and health officer Beth Epstein signed their names to a Hood River County Health Department letter that strongly supported the use of fluoride to prevent cavities.
“There is virtually unanimous agreement among health and scientific authorities that fluoridation represents the safest, most effective, least expensive, and most equitable means available for preventing tooth decay at the community level,” the second sentence states. The letter continues to highlight four persuasive statistics and facts. The letter never mentions any variation of the word “endorse.”
“I went to a lot of trouble to get Ellen Larsen to write that letter,” Haynie said. “I took that as them saying they thought fluoride was a good idea. We're not talking about endorsing a specific measure or vote. We're talking about endorsing public fluoridation as a public health intervention, as a good idea to do. It's an official letter and it was written at a time when nothing regarding it was on the ballot.”
Still, Larsen maintains she can not lend the endorsement for the department for which she works.
“It's informational only,” Larsen said of the letter's intent. “It does not have any opinion in it. The county commissioners would have to vote (on an endorsement). I as John Q public can have an opinion but I can't have it affiliated with the agency, by law.”
The rest of the Fluoride Fact ad claims “Endorsement: 100% of local dentists, our Hospital's Staff physicians, Providence Health Care System ... La Clinica del Carino, Mid-Columbia Children's Council (Head Start).”
The Mid-Columbia Children's Council board had voted Feb. 15 on whether to officially endorse water fluoridation.
“The board discussed it and the board chose to not participate in the political aspect of this campaign,” said Suzanne VanOrman, the children's council director. “We do (dental) varnishes, we do encourage the use of fluoride. But the board was real clear that we are not engaged in this political campaign.”
Meanwhile the children's council's health coordinator Jackie Brown, who has worked with the pro-fluoridation campaign on a couple of issues, insists the advertisement is not inaccurate.
“We support fluoridation from an educational point of view,” Brown said. “We support fluoridation and the education of that.”
La Clinica del Carino's 12-member board did officially endorse the pro-fluoridation campaign at a Feb. 24 board meeting. None of the board's 12 members, however, are doctors, dentists or nurses.
“They are all lay people,” House said.
La Clinica's staff physicians, dentists and nurses, meanwhile, have never voted on the issue of whether or not to endorse water fluoridation.
“We haven't polled them and we are not going to,” said Daniel Ward, executive director of La Clinica. “They have a job to do and it's not to campaign for or against fluoride. That's a political job. We're not in the political business. We're here to provide health care.”
The “Hospital's Staff physicians” did vote on the issue – back in 2001, Haynie admits. And back then he remembers just one dissenting vote amongst most of the physician staff.
“It's almost certain not everyone was there (at the meeting),” Haynie said. “But you can't have a meeting unless you have a quorum. We're just trying to get the straight forward story to the physicians. And when the hospitals physicians voted for it with one dissenting vote, we're trying to get that message across. We're think that it's important.”
House said Providence's physicians reaffirmed the 2001 vote this year, to ensure it was still active and accurate.
He recalls two doctors who refused to endorse water fluoridation.
Both Haynie and House admit something went wrong with GEM's endorsement, but maintain the rest of the ad is accurate.
“I don't think it's misleading,” House said. “The GEM thing is a problem. If I had known, I would have immediately printed a retraction. I will do what I can to personally straighten this out. It starts with a personal apology and a clarification of what was actually endorsed.”
“I'm flabbergasted and I don't know what to do,” Haynie said.