By Andrew Meuleners
Enterprise Dispatch Editor
It’s only been a few short weeks since former State Senator Dr. Scott Jensen left office, and still the rumors persist about him and his future in politics.
In a recent interview, our conversation first went to what he has been up to since leaving office.
“Well, I have six grandchildren, all three and under. They all live fairly close. So I think that’s been a real pleasure for me. My wife is a far better grandparent than I am. But it’s been fun for me to have a little bit more opportunity to learn from her. I don’t want to be anything other than candid so I’m not gonna say that one of my joys has been digging in and changing more diapers, but it’s certainly been fun to put the kids to bed and read stories to them,” Jensen said. Jensen is the founder of the Catalyst Medical Clinic with locations in Watertown and Chaska, and he is a former Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
“Our medical practice is going full tilt,” he said. “It has been very busy and I was a little taken aback by that. Through the last year of COVID-19 discussions, and I certainly have been a part of a lot of discussions, I think that caused our clinic to experience a significant uptick in new patients.
“I’ve been a little surprised, but also it’s caused me to reflect on what’s happening in the world of medicine. I think patients are really hungry for a relationship with a primary care physician, which allows them to ask whatever questions they have, and not feel bullied or put down if they bring up certain subjects. So, I guess, I hadn’t necessarily seen that coming,” Jensen said.
There was a little pause after that last sentence, and then Jensen moved into one of the reasons I most wanted to talk to him about – his future in politics.
“I imagine that you’re curious about what else is on my mind,” Jensen said. “Yeah, I’m not going to dodge that question. A year and a half ago, I thought I was done with politics. The last few years – they changed the course of my energy commitments.”
“So, my wife Mary and I have spent a lot of time talking about whether we should be reentering politics, and should we be thinking about running against Governor Walz?” he said.
“I would say that we have definitely moved from an area of uninterestedness to a place where we are very interested in it, if that is what we are called to do.”
That is a huge change for someone who decided a little over a year ago that he would not seek re-election.
Jensen has had his ups and downs as a state senator.
He was the vice chair of the Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee, was instrumental in passing health care legislation, like the affordable insulin bill in 2020.
In 2017, Jensen was called upon to help revive Gov. Mark Dayton after he collapsed during his State of the State address.
It was in April 2020 when Jensen became known worldwide for his public comments about COVID-19. His appearances on Fox News created questions internationally on reported COVID-19 deaths and the severity of the virus.
Jensen went from an under-the-radar state senator to one with a major political profile almost overnight.
With that new more public profile came new recognition, thousands of social media followers, millions of viewers of his social media video posts – and controversy.
So much controversy that Jensen received a letter that he never expected.
“In late June, I received notice from the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, a big red letter marked ‘confidential’ on it, that my license was under review after two allegations regarding public comments were filed against me,” Jensen said.
“The first allegation was that my willingness to compare COVID-19 to influenza outbreaks constituted reckless advice. The second was that I spread misinformation by sharing my concern over the Department of Health’s advice about the completion of death certificates during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Jensen said that this is the only time in his 35 years of practicing medicine that he has had a review of his license.
He added that practicing medicine has brought him “great joy” over the years and that his “patients mean the world to me.” But the review “impacted him greatly” and “brought turmoil to his family.”
Eventually, the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice dismissed the allegations against him.
Jensen took to social media and announced the findings of the board’s decision.
“We are all entitled to our own reasoning. In a nation built on free speech, this right must be protected. But instead, today we are seeing an unprecedented intolerance for contrarian viewpoints,” Jensen said.
“I was forced to respond to allegations from accusers I could not face. These people threatened to uproot my practice, my profession, and my life. But cancel culture didn’t win this time. I chose to stay in the fight, to remain vocal, and to dedicate my time to continue to spread truth rather than allow fear mongering to run amok.
“It was not easy, but the circumstances which propelled me to respond to unfair allegations were the same ones which necessitated my speaking out. A worldwide transparent dialogue was never something I imagined, but I believe it was healthy,” he said.
Jensen is much more careful and deliberate about comments he makes since this incident, but he says that he still tells the truth about issues he feels are important to understand.
One of those is how death certificates are handled in respect to COVID-19.
He explained that death certificates are not the highest priority for doctors as they are more focused on treating and helping patients rather than completing paper work, although it is necessary.
“I think with death certificates, I think that there’s a tremendous amount of casualness that enters into the process,” he said.
He pointed out that diagnoses have an impact on what medical providers get financially reimbursed, but not death certificates.
“I read an article that said over 40% of the long term care facility deaths in Minnesota, identified as COVID-19 deaths, had only one diagnosis listed on the cause of death. No other lines were completed,” which means that no other medical factors were addressed.
That number made no sense with his experience in nursing home care.
“40%, I would ask the question as a former medical director of a nursing home, why were those patients in the nursing home?” Jensen said.
“They had no significant medical problems, they didn’t have end stage dementia, terminal congestive heart failure, stage four metastatic colon cancer? If they didn’t have these things, why were they not in apartments?”
“So, you have to draw a conclusion: this is a piece of paper that a doctor has to complete because the patient is dead. We don’t get paid for it, we don’t get to submit a charge. So, what do we do after the patient dies?
“Oftentimes, I’ll get a smattering of reports for the next two weeks that need my signature. Maybe from the home health therapists wanting me to sign off because they had provided care up until the day before the patient died, to get my signature on their documents in order to charge. There’ll be this bunch of this stuff, and I’ll have the death certificate (to sign),” he said.
Jensen said that a death certificate can be seen to some doctors as a more of a minor issue.
“Doctors elevate the importance of the living patients that we’re seeing every day. That’s what we think is the best way to spend our time. So completing a death certificate thoughtfully, carefully, and accurately would not necessarily be the highest priority,” he said.
“And, it shows, when you have more than 40% of COVID-19 deaths in long term care facilities, not having any other diagnosis listed in the sequence of causation of death. You know something is wrong.
“As far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of the story. There is no question that the muddling, the confusion, the distortion, the corruption of diagnostic coding regarding COVID-19 will forever be a part of our legacy going forward without question. Done,” he said.
Jensen believes what he is saying is truthful and based on facts, but sometimes he is taken out of context and that is what makes his statements more controversial.
“I feel good about what I said, absolutely. Do I feel good about the fact that some of what I said has been sliced and diced and used by people to make a different conclusion? To maybe say that ‘See, Dr. Jensen said this, that means that the virus came from Aladdin?’ I don’t feel good about that. But I don’t know how to stop it,” he said.
“I have had various snippets of videos taken out of context all over social media. I never thought I would be part of Moscow news today; they never called me. The BBC called me and asked if I would be honest and I said ‘Sure,’” Jensen said.
Data corruption has always been an issue for Jensen and he thinks this year it has gotten worse.
“That’s my situation on the likely inadvertent corruption of data. I said ‘likely inadvertent’ because, I do think there are politicians and bureaucrats that knew the rules coming down the pipe, so that they were able to game the system more effectively than other hospitals,” Jensen said.
“So when, we had the high impact distribution, which is the second round of payments to hospitals out of the CARES Act, we saw that there was a $78,000 per patient admission to the hospital after a certain threshold was met.
“For COVID-19, if you hit the threshold number of 161 between Jan. 1, 2020 and June 10, 2020 – if you hit that, for every one of those 161 patients – not deaths, they didn’t have to die, they just needed to have the diagnosis and get discharged – you would get another $78,000 on top of what you’d already been reimbursed.
“Come on, folks, tell me the hospital administrators weren’t concerned about trying to keep their doors open. Follow the money, you’ll get your answer,” he said.
As for that other topic that got him into some hot water, Jensen explained his take on masks.
“So, I took my strongest position on masks in the spring and early summer. What I was basing that on was what Dr. Fauci and Dr. Osterholm told the world: that we should not be wearing masks, that we should save the N95 masks for the health care workers; and that previous data from the prior two decades demonstrated masks would not protect you from a respiratory virus single stranded RNA, such as COVID-19,” he said.
“Although, to me, it made intuitive sense that with masks, you certainly would have the potential for viral particles to collide with the fabric in a mask and that you would be getting less of those particles than you would be getting if someone didn’t have a mask on,” Jensen said.
The question is more about protection and if a mask is able to do that effectively.
“So then we have to ask the question, what is the necessary viral load that you need to be exposed in order for clinical infection to develop?”
“That’s the magic key for COVID-19, and with the typical cough, you will easily eject over 100,000 viral particles.
“Let’s say that a typical mask blocks 50% of the particles, so 50,000 are blocked and 50,000 get through. Will that protect you?
“Studies have shown that in fragile and vulnerable people that something like hundreds of particles could cause them to get the virus, and that in average groups of healthy people, as little as 5,000 particles could be enough to cause you to get the virus. So a typical cloth mask might not help you if you consider that.
“With the N95 mask, you can get yourself to 90% to 95% protection because it blocks particles down to .3 microns. COVID-19 particles can get down to .1 microns so you’re not going to be able to block all of them,” he said.
The mask debate has been going on for many years and has been studied multiple times. Jensen has based his opinions on these studies.
“It’s important to note the uncorrupted data that we have said that masks didn’t do the job. Masks were studied extensively in 2009 with the H1N1 swine flu virus that hit the world,” he said.
“Most people don’t realize how bad that virus was in 2009. Estimates of a billion people world wide got H1N1, a million Minnesotans were projected to have gotten it. Time after time again, these studies said that masks would not prevent you from getting the disease,” Jensen said.
Jensen’s opinion didn’t change when the mask mandate was announced but he complied.
“So in July, you know we changed course, I think it was July 25 and we had the mask mandate. Did I fly in the face of it? No, I said, ‘OK, if I got to wear it, I will wear a mask.’
“I wanted to be respectful, I didn’t feel the decision was being made on science as much as being made on an emotional response and a terribly strong desire to try to do something,” Jensen said.
For Jensen, the damage had been done. He had a review of his medical license and intense scrutiny that he had never had before. Jensen said that he has no doubt that the complaints were politically motivated.
I wanted to know what frustrated Jensen most about the current political landscape and why he chose not to run for re-election.
He answered: “I think you can campaign and say you’re going to run against gridlock. You get down there (in the legislature), and you find the pressures and the tools to pressure you into things you don’t want to do are immense.
“If you play ball, you get to author this bill. If you play ball, you will get a hearing for this bill. If you don’t, you won’t. If you do too much coloring outside the lines, the support staff that you need to do your job well, might not be there.
“There are so many power plays that protect the leadership, and then we’ve got this whole thing that without term limits, so much of the course of navigation is set, not by what’s the right thing, but how it is going to influence my election chances, and my caucus’s election chances.
“And it was astonishing, and it’s nauseating, and infuriated me,” Jensen said.
We discussed the current political landscape in America, both nationally and at a state level. I talked about how much I loved politics and that over the last couple of years, how I have become more disillusioned with politics.
I said to him, “Scott, I have always enjoyed engaging in politics and I’ve been proud to do so, I’ve enjoyed talking to friends about it. It wasn’t something that felt dirty, it felt important, it felt like part of the fabric of being a democratic society, and being an engaged citizen. But I can tell that my joy and my pride in being a ‘political person’ is waning, because there’s so much polarization going on, that if you’re not on the five yard line, at one end of the field whether it’s far right or far left. It doesn’t seem like you’re able to drive any real meaningful satisfaction. How can you, Scott Jensen, if you were to run for governor, how can you change my waning enthusiasm for engaging in politics?”
He answered: “I think somehow, the word centrist has been suffering the same fate as another word that begins with c, which is compromise,” Jensen said.
“If you come out and say, I am willing to compromise to get things done and to stop gridlock, I am willing to be a centrist, both of those things to the hard-right or the hard-left are believed to be a death nail, you’re done.
“I think that this COVID-19 thing has really, I hesitate to use this word awakened, because this whole concept of ‘woke’ is so trendy, but it’s awakened lots of people to the point where they are saying ‘Maybe I have to change a little too. Maybe I have been one of those people that wants to be on the five, 10, 15 yard line, and maybe I need to be able to move and play over on the 30 or 40 yard line, for the other side across the aisle is at least then within reach,’” he said.
Jensen talked about how former President Ronald Reagan was able to pull Democrats into the fold during the 1980 and 1984 elections.
“Maybe we need to take more seriously the words of Reagan for both parties. We need to ‘cast a big tent’ and think that if I have someone that disagrees with me 20% of the time, I don’t have a 20% enemy. I have an ally.
“I think that I can be that person because I think people are starting to say that Jensen might not be a clone – in my view at least – but gee whiz, he was willing to stand in the reach, and he was alone, his license was on the line, he had undoubtedly lost friends and patients because of his willingness to simply talk about a contrarian narrative.
“He never said COVID was a hoax. He never said that we should just dismiss it. He was always trying to share from his heart, and from his mind, and what he was researching,” he said.
Jensen thinks that he could be a good candidate for the Republican party if it is willing to accept that he is who he is.
“If it’s possible, if there’s a way that I can be a palatable candidate to conservatives without me being a clone of who they are, then I might be an interesting candidate,” he said, “because the definition of insanity is if you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you should expect a different result.
“We’ve lost 25 statewide elections in a row, and it’s not going to change unless we start engaging and respecting the perspective and the agenda of engagement in the suburbs and in minority groups and the millennials.
“There is no reason in the world why the gay community isn’t being honored and respected by Republicans, none. It’s established law, in the same way that men and women are not burned in the stake because they have a sexual affair with someone else. Our society has changed. We may not condone extramarital affairs. We certainly have taken a different attitude towards them today than we used to.
“Am I comparing gays to extramarital affairs? No, I am simply saying that our society has changed. As Amy Klobuchar said, ‘Some things are quite simply established law,’ – established gay rights, gay marriage is established law. And I wouldn’t do anything to undermine that. And if Republicans think that that’s a litmus test, then I don’t want their vote.”
For now, Jensen and his wife are still deciding whether they will wade back into the political waters. Jensen said that they will make that decision together within the next couple months.