HCA North Florida Hospital: ‘BOLO’ for Mainstreet journalist

HCA Florida North Florida Hospital has distributed BOLO notices for a Mainstreet correspondent around its Gainesville campus.
HCA Florida North Florida Hospital has distributed BOLO notices for a Mainstreet correspondent around its Gainesville campus.
Courtesy of anonymous source

HCA Florida North Florida Hospital has distributed “BOLO” notices for a Mainstreet correspondent around its Gainesville campus, according to several sources who sent photos to Mainstreet. 

“BOLO” stands for “Be on the Lookout,” a term generally used in connection with criminal activity, but these flyers direct hospital staff to contact security if they see Mainstreet correspondent Gary Nelson. If he asks questions, the flyers say, direct him to communications director Lauren Lettelier. 

The flyers feature a photo of Nelson and make no mention of other journalists who have covered the recent disruption of surgical operations at North Florida Hospital. 

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Lettelier did not respond to a request for comment about who made the decision to post the notices and why Nelson was singled out.  

One notice provided by an HCA employee also featured a security footage photo of Nelson in the hospital. Nelson said the footage is probably from Feb. 14, when he was visiting a family member who had just had surgery after a three-week delay. 

Nelson said while he was in the hospital visiting, he did walk around and ask questions for a story, but he always identified himself as a journalist to anyone who asked and never left the hospital’s public areas. He said that visit was the only time he was inside the hospital since the start of his reporting, although he has been on hospital grounds several times. 

Nelson, a Mainstreet reader with 49 years of experience as a TV journalist, stepped in as a freelance correspondent last month to report on the ongoing clinical crisis at North Florida Hospital. 

A BOLO was placed around HCA Florida North Florida Hospital property for Mainstreet reporter Gary Nelson.
Courtesy of anonymous source A BOLO was placed around HCA Florida North Florida Hospital property for Mainstreet correspondent Gary Nelson.

On Feb. 5, Nelson broke the news that Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) was investigating the sterile processing department issues that shut down the hospital’s elective surgeries for weeks. AHCA surveyors visited the hospital the next day.  

Nelson followed up with reporting on how the shutdown has affected patients and surgeons and on emails that reveal the problem stretches back at least a year.  

“Mainstreet adheres to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, and Mr. Nelson is a seasoned journalist,” Mainstreet Publisher J.C. Derrick said. “No one has brought forward any accusations of unethical behavior or inaccuracy in his reporting. He is simply being the eyes and ears of the community to fill a huge communication gap on an important public health issue.” 

In his years as a reporter, Nelson said he has never seen his photo on a BOLO sign, although he has been tear-gassed, threatened with arrest, asked to leave various places, and had his life threatened. 

“I am struck by the reluctance of HCA, since this issue became known, to be transparent… with the media and the public to whom HCA has an absolute responsibility,” said Nelson, who has won Emmy and Edward R. Murrow awards for his reporting. 

David Cuillier, director of the University of Florida’s Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Project, said he has never seen a BOLO sign for a journalist.  

“I doubt there is any law against posting a flyer about a reporter,” Cuillier wrote in an email. “But the optics are terrible. This is one of the worst examples of excessive information control I think I’ve seen yet.” 

Cuillier’s background includes research on the way public information officers control the flow of information to journalists, a practice that has grown rapidly. 

Mickey Nall, a senior lecturer and professional-in-residence for the public relations department at UF’s College of Journalism and Communications, said the best practice in a crisis is to remind staff to direct questions to the communications director. He said posting a BOLO notice does not achieve the same effect. 

“This organization doesn’t have a PR problem,” Nall said in a phone interview. “They have an operational problem… and part of that is now becoming a PR problem when you, I’m going to call it politicize, or demonize, a member of the working, free, legitimate press. Mr. Nelson is an award-winning journalist. He’s not in this for ‘gotcha’ moments or silliness.” 

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Gary

If you want a story about lax sterile processing procedures for surgical cases, look into the VA hospital in Gainesville.
Lax sterile supply issues is a common everyday issue there.

simone hendrixx

sounds to me like pure hogwash and baloney and a BOLO of all things—I do not buy any of it

andy

Thank you for the coverage of hca’s problems. I was about to schedule surgery. Your coverage has given me 2nd thoughts. Keep the good work.

JeffK

What’s the root cause? Can’t be profits if the VA has same problem. Is it hiring practices and training, maybe?

Jason

HCA handled this entire matter poorly in regard to communication. Why did it take this one reporter to break the story? Where was the other local media? Surgeries being postponed, employees being furloughed, a state investigation… it seems like other news outlets would have jumped on it. Maybe because it’s HCA and not UF Health. If someone stubs their toe at Shands the Gainesville Sun is there.

anonymous

My partner suffered a tragedy at Shands. He is gone forever now. I think, after the pandemic, there was such a shortage of staff, that hospitals hire almost anyone.
At the end of the day, these facilites, hospitals, doctors are still rolling in the money, and we, the community that trusts them with our very lives, have been mislead to believe they care.

Janice Garry

This story is precisely why we in Gainesville are fortunate to have MainStreet Daily News – a local, independent news source. NPR is currently doing a series on areas in the country where there are media deserts. Where there is no local news with a watchful eye, there are shenanigans that do not serve the public well. I would encourage each reader to become a MainStreet member to keep an objective eye on our community.

Real Gainesville Citizen and Voter

Give ’em hell, Gary! And, thanks to Main St. Daily News for publishing his findings.

LindaJ

I’m a member of Main Street News support. They do a great job in keeping the residents of High Springs, Newberry and Alachua, in particular, informed of local news. I find it reprehensible that HCA has a BOLO poster for any reporter. Because my husband and I use HCA for our procedures, we have been watching news from all sources of HCA’s surgery issues. Issuing a BOLO for a reporter sends a strong negative message. Keep up the good work, Main Street News. We’ve needed another source of news for so long and we appreciate your organization.

Darrell Hartman

Keep up the good reporting!

Supernibbler

I think the problem is that they lost experienced trained staff to the new Shands Autoclave Complex in the Airport Industrial Park, thinking they could hire restaurant dishwashers at a fraction of the price.

Grace

I agree. This is a total lack of employee competence. It’s not rocket science but definitely a quality control issue.

Mike

I bet it’s hard to keep well trained staff on hand when they don’t get to work for tips any more. 😉

Grace

What does the hospital have to hide??? Seriously, a BOLO??!! In other words if you like your job any employee will NOT offer any info to a well established journalist….

Pretty obvious employees are being unhinged in exercising their First Amendment.

Jim

Bulletins in hospitals are often visible to the public so I wouldn’t assume this came from an employee. Patients are starting to be aware HCA is corrupt

MJ

Given HCA’s response with a “BOLO”. Mr. Nelson must be reporting facts. Would like to know if the hospital has an increased infections and the resolution.
Thank you for keeping us informed!

Last edited 1 month ago by MJ
Mike

Neat. Mr Nelson must be hitting pretty close to the mark to get this ‘badge of honor’. Great Job!

Kathryn Foxhall

Regarding the story about the HCA Florida North Florida putting out “be on the look out” fliers for a reporter:
Even after many years of opposing the trend toward intimidating employees from speaking to reporters, I’m flabbergasted by this one.
I would tell journalists: this kind of heavy censorship will get worse until we come together to fight it.
In addition to the information about the BOLO flier on the reporter, the news article says:
“Mickey Nall, a senior lecturer and professional-in-residence for the public relations department at UF’s College of Journalism and Communications, said the best practice in a crisis is to remind staff to direct questions to the communications director.”
I appreciate the idea that the official story often should come from the official avenue.
However, the Society of Professional Journalists and others have long fought such gag rules that ban employees from speaking to reporters at all, or from speaking to them without notifying authorities.
Those restrictions are horrific censorship and routinely keep from the public important information, including the existence of dangerous situations.
I wonder why those who promote such controls aren’t scared to death of what they themselves don’t know.
My recent story in FAIR.org.
Kathryn Foxhall
Hyattsville, Maryland

anonymous

Gary Nelson is a honest reporter. The doctors who called attention to the instruments that were not in condition to do safe surgery have ethics! It is a shame that people who want to do a good and honest job or get help so they can do their jobs safely are treated like they are doing anything wrong. Come on! Its the other way around!
In February of 2022, my life partnerxperienced a sentinal event at another operating facility in Gainesville,FL. Rather than being treated with urgency, his surgeon was slow to react to the crisis before his eyes, and then rather than show any sign that he really cared, he sent us off to another part of the facility to see if they could discover what had gone wrong.
By the way, the brain injury that affected my partner was called Prion disease, and it can be transmitted by contaminated surgical instruments. Since the hospital says they “dont know what happened or why,,,” I am left , with no explantion, other than the horrific ones I can only speculate since no one cares to find the root cause.
So Gainesville, we need to wake up and realize that all the hype about the great hospitals in our area, our just hype.

James

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this awful situation. If we can not trust our local Medical Facilities and the management that supervises them what’s next? Our society is becoming more us against them every day. Gainesville we are the problem. And to even insert the possibility this has a political angle is just as disappointing but not surprising at all. I guess it really started with our local utilities. “Power for the People by the People” Not anymore.