Scott Jensen’s unconventional health care views spread beyond COVID-19

By: - October 25, 2022 6:00 am

Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen speaks to supporters at a rally at an Apple Valley Cowboy Jack’s Wednesday, May 4, 2022. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

Republican nominee for governor Scott Jensen rose to national prominence by sharing unconventional COVID-19 views with right-wing talk radio and cable TV hosts like Laura Ingraham, who were eager to hear him downplay the pandemic and attack the public health measures put in place by government officials.

He minimized the seriousness of the virus — calling it a “mild four day respiratory illness” — and decried measures to contain it, like universal mask wearing. Jensen likened COVID-19 public health measures to Nazism and last year signed onto a lawsuit to block COVID-19 vaccines for children.

A review of his public statements and published writings, however, shows that Jensen has expressed unconventional opinions about a wide range of health care issues beyond just COVID-19.

A common theme the Chaska family physician emphasizes in his writing — including two books, one self-published — is skepticism of modern medicine.

“Patients: don’t be too willing to accept as gospel truth all that the doctor claims,” Jensen writes in his first book “Relationship Matters: The Foundation of Medical Care is Fracturing,” published in 2015. “Trust your instincts, do some homework, and be willing to consider alternative approaches. What have you got to lose?”

Jensen even advises an unorthodox medical research tool for patients: Google. 

Jensen in both of his books deplores the use of electronic medical records — which much of the medical community lauds because it helps providers coordinate care  — and said he warns his patients that whatever they tell doctors may end up in their chart and then be viewed by the prying eyes of the government.

“How was I to let my patients know that their government is constantly collecting their personal data?” Jensen writes in his most recent book, “We’ve Been Played … Exposing the Triad of Tyranny.” 

To amplify the warnings of government overreach, “We’ve Been Played” is interspersed with quotes from the British novelist and journalist George Orwell.

Jensen’s two books include his own recollections of various patient encounters. Jensen, whose campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment, doesn’t use real patient names and says he sometimes amalgamated various scenes for clarity and emphasis.

His most recent book is selling at a brisk pace — to his campaign, at least. Jensen’s campaign spent $65,000 earlier this year on “We’ve Been Played” to give to people who donated at least $25 to his campaign, according to campaign finance filings. He sells his first book “Relationship Matters,” which was self-published, out of his private practice.

In both books, Jensen regularly criticizes doctors for over prescribing medications.

“I am flabbergasted by the love affair doctors have with their prescription pads,” Jensen writes in “Relationship Matters.”

Jensen writes that confidence in pharmacology can be ultimately harmful. 

“After four decades of caring for patients, I have learned an important lesson: Today’s science may be tomorrow’s folly — but that won’t stop doctors from being overly confident that the prescriptions they write are the ‘absolute best medicine’ for their patients,” Jensen writes in “We’ve Been Played.”

He describes an encounter with a patient — he calls her “Abby” — who was grieving her dead husband and asked Jensen whether he thought she should go on an antidepressant. Jensen writes that he felt “it was important she try to work through the grieving process without medications.”

“I’ve seen folks who have been prescribed anti-depressants and come to rely on them in order to cope with life. Drugs can become an impediment to the necessary process of pushing through grief,” Jensen writes.  He said the answer for her was not prescriptions but “the power of a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, and the simple act of caring.”

In his books, Jensen regularly rails at pharmaceutical companies for flooding the country with drugs and implies that he’s thought about this trend prior to prescribing medication.

Joel Wu, a medical ethicist at the University of Minnesota, said physicians must treat patients as individuals with unique biological circumstances, even if the doctor has a problem with, say, the drug industry. (Wu emphasized he was speaking about doctors in general, and not Jensen specifically).

“You still have an obligation to the unique and individual interests and circumstances of the patient in front of you,” Wu said.

Despite his anti-pharmacological musings, Jensen has not been immune from using his prescription pad liberally, Gov. Tim Walz alleged in their recent televised debate. Citing 2013 data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Walz said Jensen was a top prescriber of opioids in that year, by which time its addictive properties were well known.

In 2001, Jensen started his own clinic, Catalyst Medical Clinic, where his daughter also works as a physician. Jensen describes himself in his books as a maverick who is willing to say provocative things for the benefit of his patients. 

In “We’ve Been Played,” Jensen says patients should use Google to find the best treatments, including vaccinations. Despite his vaccine skepticism, he says the media unfairly created an image of him as anti-vaccine, but he denies that charge. 

Even if he’s not against vaccines, however, he never had a problem appearing in public with some of the most extreme and vociferous anti-vaxx figures in the world, while also signing on to the lawsuit that sought to prevent young people from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

The foreword to “We’ve Been Played” is written by Peter McCullough, an anti-vaxx figure who rose to prominence by spreading COVID-19 conspiracy theories, like his claim that the pandemic was planned. McCollough writes in the foreword that Jensen is “a modern-day hero” for his COVID-19 stance.

In one encounter in his latest book, Jensen describes a patient who was unsure about getting inoculated for COVID-19. He writes that he told her he would support whatever she decided to do. 

“Lots of folks will tell you not to make a big deal out of it and go ahead and get the vaccine. Others will say the opposite. But one thing you might not hear is the simple fact that you can’t get unvaccinated,” Jensen quotes himself saying to a patient. “Through the years involving a variety of vaccines, I have had numerous gut-wrenching conversations with folks who got vaccinated and then had serious second thoughts about whether they did the right thing.”

His agnosticism about vaccines places Jensen outside the medical mainstream, in which the vast majority of doctors recommend the benefits — both to individuals and society — of widespread inoculation. 

Wu said physicians have shouldered a difficult responsibility during the pandemic, as misinformation surrounding COVID-19 quickly spread, and people looked to their own doctors for advice about the vaccine.

“I think there’s actually a problem when people who are experts and aren’t willing to exercise their expertise in ways that benefit both individuals and communities,” said Wu, again declining to address Jensen specifically. “It’s an application of a unique power and a unique role in the community — particularly when there’s so much misinformation — that is dangerous.”

Doctors have spoken out against Jensen for his COVID-19 views. In a rare move, the Minnesota Medical Association’s political arm rejected one of their own and endorsed Walz last month. The group cited Walz’s COVID-19 policies and support for abortion rights.

Jensen says the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice has investigated him five times, most recently for his comments about COVID-19 vaccine mandates, questioning the effectiveness of masks and promoting and prescribing ivermectin as an effective COVID-19 treatment. The Board of Medical Practice hasn’t confirmed the existence of complaints against Jensen.

Dr. Penny Wheeler, former CEO of Allina Health, said his guidance about COVID-19 has perturbed many Minnesota physicians.

“I think Scott Jensen is out of step with science, even though he’s a physician,” Wheeler said. “Many fellow physicians have called him an embarrassment to our profession.”

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues. For two years she was also a corps member with Report for America, a national nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms and news deserts. She lives in St. Paul and likes to knit and watch documentaries in her free time.

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