The self-named "Health Freedom Slate," a conservative effort to govern the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Board with a far-right hand, earned three seats on the board of four candidates running.
Patricia Maraia, a registered nurse, won Seat 1 for the Board's Southern District with 54.4% of the vote to opponent Darryl Henry's 45.60%. With all precincts reporting, Bridgette Fiorucci and Victor Rohe also won their races: Fiorucci, running for Seat 2 in the Central District with 39.73% of the vote compared to second place's Thomas Dart at 34.43%. Rohe led three others in the Northern District's Seat 2 with 34.25% of the vote.
Election Results: See the Sarasota-Manatee results from the Aug. 23 primary election
Hospital Board race: COVID-19 concerns drive conservative effort to win seats on Sarasota Hospital Board
Joseph Chirillo, running for Seat 2 of the Southern District, lost to his opponent, Gregory Carter, by about 3,500 votes.
The only open Board Seat without a Health Freedom candidate, Northern District Seat 1, lost its incumbent Jim Meister. Brad Baker won comfortably with 57% of the vote.
“I’m humbled. I did reach out to my opponent — who’s a real gentleman — and we’ve become good friends out of it," Baker said in an interview. "I’m looking forward to his support, guidance and mentorship as I go on the board."
Baker said he's looking forward to encouraging transparency and accountability for the hospital moving forward.
"I paid taxes to this hospital for 50 years. It’s a billion-dollar operation, and I think Sarasota needs to embrace it as they have, but also know what’s going on," he said. "I think we all want what’s best for Sarasota County and the hospital."
Election 2022 guide: Who is running for local, state and federal offices in the Sarasota-Manatee area?
While the Health Freedom candidates wouldn't make up the majority of the nine-member Hospital Board, their views could affect the board's policy and property tax decisions affecting one of the nation's premier hospital systems.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital is a massive economic presence in Sarasota County, boasting a $1.3 billion annual budget and 8,000 employees. The hospital is also a public entity, partly taxpayer-funded and provided oversight by the elected Hospital Board.
Who are the Health Freedom members? Why are they important to this race?
The Health Freedom Slate consisted of four members, including one retired doctor and two registered nurses.
Chirillo, the doctor, is arguably the group's most outspoken member after his contentious COVID-19 views put him into the spotlight: He called masks "ineffective" and used ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine to treat his COVID-ridden patients — despite repeated warnings from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration not to do so, citing insufficient data for the drug's efficiency in preventing or treating COVID.
"People were looking at me like I'm some conspiracy theorist or witch doctor," he said in a previous interview with the Herald-Tribune, insisting he's "not an anti-vaxxer" for his opposition to vaccine mandates.
Another member of the slate, Rohe, has no experience in the medical field. According to his bio on healthfreedomsrq.com, Rohe is a political and fiscal conservative "well experienced in legal and regulatory systems," listing past titles such as mortgage broker, financial consultant, and police lieutenant.
Fiorucci and Maraia made up the other half of the Slate. They're both registered nurses citing broken confidence in the hospital system, with Fiorucci claiming that Sarasota residents' freedoms are "slowly eroding" and that previous medical decisions "ruled over a patient's autonomy."
The coordinated campaign by these four illustrates how highly politicized COVID-19 decisions have trickled down to fuel fierce campaigns in usually low-profile seats such as the Hospital Board.
Here's a breakdown of the wins and losses:
Patricia Maraia won, representing Seat 1 of the Board's Southern District. Maraia won with 54.50% of the vote followed by Darryl W. Henry's 45.60%
Gregory A. Carter won the second seat for the Southern District. Carter won with 51.94% of the vote compared to Health Freedom candidate Joseph "Doc" Chirillo's 48.06%.
Now representing the Northern District, Brad Baker won Seat 1. Baker won with 57.42% of the vote followed by incumbent Jim Meister at 42.59%.
For Seat 2, Victor Rohe won with 34.25% of the vote followed by Richard Rehmeyer, Nick Altier, and André S. Hoefer with 29.39%, 27.75% and 8.61%, respectively.
For the Central District, only Seat 2 was up for election. Bridgette Fiorucci now takes on the role, gaining a lead over Thomas Dart with 39.73% of the vote. Dart had 34.43% of the vote with Joseph J. DeVirgilio Jr. coming in last with 25.84% of the vote.
Stefania Lugli covers a little of everything for the Herald-Tribune. You can contact her at email@example.com or dm her on Twitter at @steflugli.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Sarasota Hospital Board: See which candidates won seats