A Florida hospital has removed a doctor from patient care after reports he offered opt-out letters for $50 to parents who wanted to avoid their children’s school mask mandates.

Brian Warden, an emergency room doctor who contracts with Capital Regional Medical Center in Tallahassee, promoted the mask exemption letters in a Facebook group called Parents Against Masks. In his posts, Warden invited Leon County, Fla., parents to contact him if they wanted a medical exemption for their child, according to screenshots of the posts reported by WCTV.

Through his company, Dove Field Health, Warden offered a signed opt-out form on official letterhead along with PDFs and originals that would be mailed.

“Also, I am a real doctor,” Warden wrote in the comments of a post explaining that his offer was not affiliated with any hospital or group.

Capital Regional’s CEO, Alan Keesee, notified the board of trustees at a Tuesday night meeting that Warden had been removed from providing patient care, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

The hospital’s spokeswoman, Rachel Stiles, told The Washington Post in a statement that “third-party providers” are expected to behave in a way consistent with the hospital system’s values, which include “absolute integrity.” She did not clarify whether Warden retains any affiliation with the hospital, other than that he is no longer seeing patients.

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“Immediately upon learning of this physician’s actions, we began the process of removing him from providing services to our hospital patients,” she said.

Warden worked for a physicians group that contracts with CRMC and graduated medical school in 2018. He has no prior complaints or disciplinary actions against him, according to state medical board records. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Warden’s ouster came two weeks after the Leon County Schools announced K-8 students would be required to wear a masks for the start of the school year. Leon County is among at least 10 districts statewide to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis’s, R, ban on masks mandates.

DeSantis has been a bulwark against coronavirus health protocols despite Florida posting a record number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths from covid-19.

Chris Petley, a spokesperson with the Leon County School district, said the forms Warden promoted would have been accepted, as the district only requires a form from a doctor or psychologist on official letterhead or bearing an official stamp.

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Petley stressed that the district is willing to work with families, including if they are unable to meet Friday’s deadline for submitting the mask exemption form.

“We really want to work with parents to make sure students come to school,” he told The Post. “It’s also very important to know this is temporary. We’ll continue to monitor the rates and metrics locally, and we hope to remove the mask requirement when we can.”

While Warden’s forms would have passed the school district’s muster, doctors are not acting ethically when they help patients arguing personal liberty to circumvent masking and vaccine requirements, said Kenneth Goodman, who directs the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy.

“We teach medical students they have a duty to their patients but also to the health of their community,” Goodman said. “It’s one thing to be a patient advocate. It’s another thing to suspend their clinical judgment in support of that.”

When patients come in with fears or suspicions, a doctor’s obligation is to help them understand the science. “You don’t help them by indulging their fears, their fantasies and their fetishes,” Goodman said.

Some masking opponents have cited fringe scientific theories to argue masks are ineffective or actually harmful to children’s health; others have framed state, local or school-based mandates as an erosion of personal freedoms.

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But the vocal opposition to masking requirements belies the overwhelming support for them: An Axios-Ipsos poll released week found that 64 percent of Americans favored state or local mask requirements in public while 35 percent opposed. Support was even stronger for school mandates; pollsters found that 69 percent of Americans were in favor of requiring teachers, students and administrators to wear masks.

Goodman, the medical ethicist, said masking is as much about good citizenship as it is about public health.

“Why would you claim a liberty interest in not being a good citizen? It’s like saying you have a liberty interest in peeing in a pool,” he said. “Good citizens and good patriots wear masks.”

Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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