On Your Side Investigation: Parent sues CoxHealth and CEO Steve Edwards over tweet

Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 5:59 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It started as a private Facebook post that caught the attention of a Springfield hospital CEO. Now it’s a lawsuit drawing national attention. An Ozarks mother is suing CoxHealth and its CEO Steve Edwards, over a tweet.

Samantha Cherry says it’s discrimination, defamation, and breach of patient privacy. CoxHealth leaders say, they were transparent.

This all started last summer when Cherry scheduled a virtual visit for her son who had swimmer’s ear. She was instructed to use the promo code ‘COVID’ to talk to a provider at no cost. She declined. Then she got a call.

“I just didn’t feel comfortable with it. I was like, well, you know this has nothing to do with COVID. I don’t need the free visit. I would like to go ahead and pay for the visit,” said Cherry.

Cherry says she was told she couldn’t do that. She went elsewhere to get treatment for her son. She later made a Facebook post, mentioning her son by name and writing, ‘I wasn’t associating the word COVID with my son.’

“I didn’t tag Cox. I didn’t make a formal complaint or anything like that. This is my experience. That was it,” said Cherry.

Then CoxHealth CEO Steve Edwards tweeted about free telemedicine for uninsured. He wrote a coupon code is required in the insurance field. This tweet has a screenshot of Cherry’s Facebook post.

“Has my profile picture. Has my son’s name. He didn’t bother to edit out anything. Nothing. He could have white-ed out my picture,” said Cherry.

Edwards went on to say in the tweet, ‘I regret anyone would think it is part of a conspiracy theory’.

“He called me a conspiracy theorist, he did! Not that there’s any other time to discriminate against someone, but during the middle of a pandemic, to use me as an example when that’s such a fiery subject is not fair to me or my kid,” said Cherry.

Court documents filed by CoxHealth attorney’s read: Edwards had the ‘absolute right to tweet without alteration.’ It goes on to say Edwards and CoxHealth are ‘immune from liability’ because Cherry made the post.

Reporter Ashley Reynolds asked Cherry if Edwards would have blacked out the identifiers, would she still sue? “No. Because then at that point it would not have directly affected me,” Cherry answered.

Due to pending litigation, CoxHealth declined our interview request, but sent a statement. It says in part:

To make it free, the software required a coupon code, and “COVID” was recommended by our team to keep it simple for everyone. Although this was used by all patients, it was simply a coupon code and had nothing to do with diagnosis or how we reported COVID case numbers.

Ms. Cherry’s statement on Facebook worried us that members of the community were wrongly suspicious that we were using the term COVID to falsely categorize patients. We feared this could cause people to skip the telemedicine and dedicated testing process, and instead go to the Emergency Room, placing both our staff and patients at risk. In light of these concerns, Steve shared Ms. Cherry’s Facebook post, alongside an earlier post he had made, to clarify CoxHealth’s testing procedures. Merely reposting her post is not a privacy violation.

We strongly believe this case lacks merit, and we will trust and rely upon our judicial process to resolve this matter.

The case is expected to go to a jury trial in the next few months.

“I’m going to ride it out to the end because it’s a principle thing for me,” said Cherry.

Cherry is asking all posts regarding her be taken down. She’s seeking damages. The amount is not listed.

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