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UM, school board distance themselves from doctor accused of spreading COVID-19 misinformation

University of Montana Campus Fall
Posted at 9:04 AM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-10 11:36:29-05

MISSOULA — The Daily Montanan reports a medical doctor affiliated with the University of Montana’s physician training program and who has been given “time-outs” on Facebook for spreading misinformation as well as calling for Dr. Anthony Fauci to be “executed for the crimes he has committed on humanity” will continue to teach through the university.

Dr. Justin Buls, the Kalispell site director of the Family Medicine Residency of Western Montana, is also a school trustee on the West Valley School District in the Flathead, and that board last month voted to distance itself from the comments he posted to his Facebook account, which also included updating his profile picture to show a swastika made with syringe needles.

University of Montana spokesman Dave Kuntz said that while Buls remains affiliated with the university’s physician training program, which includes supervising medical doctors in training, the institution is aware of the comments and the controversy.

“The UM Family Medicine program doesn’t endorse these personal views,” Kuntz said. “We don’t support hate-speech and anti-Semitism, and we expect that of our community members, especially those in critical teaching roles and expect physicians to act in a way that meets those. Dr. Buls hasn’t lived up to them.”

Repeated messages to Buls by the Daily Montanan via his social media account and through a university spokesperson went unanswered.

However, archived posts from his Facebook account show that he was suspended at least twice from Facebook and independent fact-checkers also flagged several of his posts. In his comments, he also claims the COVID-19 virus was created in a lab and “released on purpose to kill millions of people,” a narrative that is popular in some social media circles but without factual basis.

Buls also uses the hash-tags, #unmaskourkids and #thisisnotavaccine.

At the West Valley School Board meeting in October, Buls objected to the board distancing itself from comments he made on social media. However, Chairwoman Stephanie Nadasi said that issue of Buls’ posts and comments resulted in the “board receiving concerned emails,” and the board wanting to clarify its position and the role of individual members.

“Buls stated he never stated he was acting as a board member when making his posts on his private account and believes the discussion is slander,” according to the minutes of the meeting.

Facebook comments

Buls practices medicine in Kalispell while supervising family medicine students. The affiliation is through the University of Montana and the combined Wyoming-Washington-Alaska-Montana-Idaho medical program through the University of Washington. Similar residencies also exist in Billings, but are under the direction of RiverStone Health or Billings Clinic.

Buls has been with the university’s residency program since 2014, and has taken a strong stance on Facebook about the virus, the vaccine and the federal government’s role.

An Aug. 9 Facebook posting shows that he encouraged doctors to speak up about an article, “Doctor tells the truth about COVID,” which was flagged by fact checkers as “false information.” On Aug. 20, he was back on social media: “they are trying to hide the side effects of these vaccines from people and deliberately don’t care whether or not they kill people… It’s a sad day when I (as a physician) can’t be honest to their patients. The medical community should be ashamed.”

Buls also dips his toe into politics as he cheered on Montana being the only state to ban vaccine requirements: “And thank god for that. Glad our Governor stuck up for the right of us Montanans. Wish he would do the same for kids and ensure their choice to wear a mask or not.” About a week later, he compared what school boards were doing with masks to child abuse, urging residents to “STOP CHILD ABUSE NOW!!!”

School response, university response

Kuntz said he hopes that during a pandemic there is consistent messaging from public health leaders about the best way to approach COVID. He pointed out that university officials are meeting daily with city, county and state health officials to employ the best practices.

“We want to be a place of science and medicine and the best and safest practices,” Kuntz said.

While Kuntz confirmed that Buls is still employed and affiliated with the university, he could not confirm whether other disciplinary processes were taking place because of employee confidentiality.

“We have to make sure we provide due process and also provide a safe working environment,” he said.

Kuntz said the university had received inquiries about Buls’ posts, and that they are handled much like any complaint, regardless of content.

“It’s important that they go through the processes that we’ve spent a lot of years making sure they work and work well for all,” Kuntz said.

Meanwhile, at the Oct. 11 meeting, the West Valley School Board took steps to distance itself from Buls’ comments as the board unanimously approved a statement in response to concerns about the Facebook postings.

That statement reads: “The actions of a single member of this board are not the actions of this Board of Trustees. That the community and its members be placed on notice that unless specifically authorized by motion of the board, an individual trustee of this board hold the power of and expresses his or her opinion as an individual community member and that such individual’s statements and/or opinions should not be construed as the statements and/or positions of the Board of Trustees.”

After the vote, Buls urged members to adopt or reaffirm the statement yearly, according to the minutes.

Not the only doctor

Buls is not the only licensed Montana doctor to raise concerns about his social media posts regarding COVID. Dr. Ryan Cole, who lives in Idaho but is licensed in seven other states, including Montana, is under investigation in Washington for spreading COVID misinformation.

The Idaho Capital Sun reported that Cole, a pathologist who owns a laboratory in Garden City, Idaho, has prescribed ivermectin to at least one patient. Ivermectin is not approved for the treatment of COVID. The complaint in Washington alleges that his treatment advice for COVID-19 has fallen below a standard of care.

In September, the Washington Medical Commission warned practitioners that they may discipline physicians who fall below the standard of care established by “medical experts, federal authorities and legitimate medical research.”

He is also being investigated by Idaho for practicing outside the standard of care for Idaho physicians, “pointing to his public states on prescribing to COVID-19 patients via telehealth platforms.”

In Montana, Cole’s license is in good standing and expires in March 2023. He’s been licensed in the state since 2015 with no disciplinary activity.

Jessica Nelson, public information officer with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, which supports the state’s Board of Medical Examiners, told the Daily Montanan that the examiners can investigate a practitioner for a number of reasons, but those complaints and investigations are not public unless the board finds a reason for disciplinary action.

“At this time, no cause has been on a complaint of that nature,” Nelson said.

However, Montana laws do allow the Board of Medical Examiners to take action on “unprofessional conduct” that causes other states to suspend or revoke a physician’s license.