Speaking to reporters on the White House’s South Lawn on Wednesday, President Donald Trump claimed he was warmly welcomed at hospitals in the wake of recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, and intimated that surgeons had even deserted their patients to meet him.
“The doctors were coming out of the operating rooms,” Trump said. “There were hundreds and hundreds of people all over the floor. You couldn’t even walk on it.”
But the hospitals he visited say that isn’t what happened – and that doctors would never pause surgery to greet the president.
“At no time did, or would, physicians or staff leave active operating rooms during the presidential visit,” Ryan Mielke, a spokesman for University Medical Center of El Paso, said in a statement to The Washington Post on Thursday. “Our priority is always patient care.”
Trump visited University Medical Center earlier this month, days after a gunman police say was motivated by anti-immigrant hatred killed 22 and wounded dozens at a Walmart. Though two patients who had already been discharged returned to the hospital to meet the president, none of the eight victims who were still being treated wanted to do so, Mielke told The Post at the time.
“This is a very sensitive time in their lives,” he said. “Some of them said they didn’t want to meet with the president, some of them didn’t want any visitors.”
The rejection apparently stung, because Trump returned to the subject on Wednesday, weeks after his visit to the city. When asked during a freewheeling exchange with reporters if he had spoken to the victims of mass shootings about whether they would support changes to gun laws, he ignored the question and instead took the opportunity to complain about news coverage of his visits to El Paso and Dayton.
At hospitals in both cities, the president claimed, “the love for me – and me, maybe, as a representative of the country – but for me – and my love for them was unparalleled. These are incredible people. But if you read the papers, it was like nobody would meet with me.”
That wasn’t true, he insisted: “Not only did they meet with me, they were pouring out of the room.”
White House officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late Thursday, and it’s not clear if Trump was describing his visit to the Texas hospital or the Ohio hospital, or both, when he claimed that surgeons rushed out of operating rooms to see him.
“Our physicians and staff at no time leave an active operating room, procedural area or patient room to greet anyone,” Ben Sutherly, a spokesman for Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, told The Washington Post on Friday.
Trump visited both hospitals on Aug. 7, and reporters were not allowed to be present. The White House previously painted a glowing picture of his appearance at University Medical Center of El Paso, saying that the president was “received very warmly by not just victims and their families, but by the many members of medical staff who lined the hallways to meet them.” Similarly, White House social media director Dan Scavino wrote on Twitter that Trump “was treated like a Rock Star” at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, where the president met with three victims of the mass shooting that killed nine and injured dozens in the city’s entertainment district just hours after the massacre in El Paso.
Officials from Miami Valley Hospital previously told reporters that Trump met with trauma surgeons and nurses during “a very meaningful visit” that became emotional at times, and “wasn’t about politics.”
After the visit to Dayton, where Trump appears to have experienced a more hospitable reception than in El Paso, the White House released photos and a video showing the president smiling for pictures with nurses in scrubs and doctors with lab coats and stethoscopes. There was no indication, however, that any of those hospital staffers had just stepped out of the operating room. None are wearing the long-sleeved gowns, surgical masks and head coverings typically required in sterile surgical environments. (Medical personnel dressed in such attire did watch through the window as protesters gathered outside the hospital to oppose Trump’s visit, as captured by an Associated Press photographer.)
Trump’s remarks about doctors stepping away from operating rooms had drawn some skepticism on social media, given that interrupting an operation would be risky, and simply stepping outside the room for a few seconds would require surgeons to change their clothes and sterilize their hands and forearms again.
“I’m picturing surgeons dropping their scalpels as their patients lay unconscious on operating room tables,” one Twitter user commented.