Anita Shad (left) and Jim Distelhorst.

Anita Shad (left) and Jim Distelhorst.

Pro-ivermectin, anti-mask rally host runs for health board

Anita Shad, aka Anita Azariah, has railed against health mandates in Snohomish County. She aims to unseat a retired doctor.

LYNNWOOD — This summer, the vice chair of the Snohomish County Republican Party, Anita Shad, wrote on Facebook that she got COVID-19 and treated it with ivermectin from a feed store.

Shad is challenging retired Dr. Jim Distelhorst in a down-ticket race for a six-year term at Public Hospital District No. 2, also known as the Verdant Health Commission, in Lynnwood.

Whoever is elected will be in a position to influence a hospital district with $100 million in assets.

Distelhorst, a former family physician, wants to treat the coronavirus as a permanent pandemic.

Shad went by Anita Canter until a recent divorce. She also goes by Anita Azariah, and under that name she has hosted well-attended rallies against mask and vaccine mandates over the past year in Everett. She has helped organize conservative protests at school board meetings around Snohomish County.

In the voter’s pamphlet, Shad writes about her life as an immigrant from Pakistan, where, she said, health care was not readily available. She’s concerned about health care access for seniors and others, and she wants to keep property taxes for the hospital district as low as possible.

The voter pamphlet’s bio omits many of her more controversial views.

“Ivermectin works for Covid,” she wrote in a Facebook post Aug. 13. “You can find it at any animal feed store for $10. I just used it for 6 days and it worked great!!! Disclaimer: Just my experience. You do what you choose for your body!”

She attached a photo of three boxes of apple-flavored ivermectin paste. A picture of a horse is featured on the boxes. Her comment was flagged by Facebook: “Some unapproved COVID-19 treatments may cause serious harm.”

The Food and Drug Administration has not approved ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19. The federal agency warns that unprescribed use can cause serious health complications in humans.

A commenter asked Shad if she had COVID.

“Yes,” she replied, with an emoji of a smirking face wearing sunglasses.

Talking to a Herald reporter, she wouldn’t confirm if she took ivermectin to treat COVID, saying it would be a violation of medical privacy.

It would be Distelhorst’s first full term on the five-person commission. The position is nonpartisan and is paid a stipend of $128 per day spent on district business.

Distelhorst was appointed to the commission in 2018. He ran unopposed in 2019 to finish the term. He said his childhood doctor inspired his career in health care. In the 9th grade, he took a Latin class so he could better understand medical terms. He’s a graduate of Harvard Medical School and moved to Washington over 40 years ago to complete his residency. He served a decade as a medical administrator at Valley Medical Center in Renton, the oldest and largest public hospital district in Washington, with roots in World War II. He said he attended over 200 board meetings there.

He is the only physician on the commission. Even if the public hospital district is no longer responsible for a hospital’s day-to-day operations, Distelhorst finds value in his work.

“The thing I like the best about public hospital districts is that they’re focused,” he said.

Unlike health care providers that are ever-expanding across counties and state lines, Public Hospital District No. 2 has more modest ambitions. It will always be confined by set geographic boundaries, and it will always serve the same population in south Snohomish County.

The Verdant Health Commission hasn’t operated a hospital since 2010, when Swedish Health Services took over Stevens Hospital in Edmonds. But it is still involved in local health care, doling out millions of dollars in grants each year and running a community health center.

Since 2013, Verdant has put an emphasis on behavioral health and dental care. More recently, the group has pitched in more than $1.6 million to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The commission serves nearly 200,000 people in Brier, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Woodway, portions of Bothell and unincorporated Snohomish County.

The district is on the hook if Swedish, for some reason, breaches its contract and makes an exit. The district has enough cash reserves to take over the hospital without skipping a beat, but maintaining those funds is an ongoing effort.

In 2021, the Verdant Health Commission collected less than $3 million in property tax revenue. Distelhorst said the district expects to invest nearly $12 million in grants by the end of 2021. He called the 4-to-1 investment for taxpayers a good deal. The district also receives money from its lease with Swedish.

Distelhorst said he wants more permanent funding for pandemic-related grants. So far, the commission has approved those funds as emergency grants, month by month. He said he’d like to see that money built into the annual budget instead, because the pandemic isn’t going away.

Without looking at the numbers, or how the grants are given out, Shad couldn’t say what specific changes she would bring to the commission. But she said she would be “very cautious” with how the hospital district spends money.

“I would vote every time that the taxes stay where they are,” she said. “Especially during this pandemic. A lot of people lost their jobs. A lot of people lost their properties.”

On her campaign page, Shad wrote she would like to conduct a new health and wellness needs assessment, if elected. The last one was in 2016.

“A lot has changed since then,” she wrote. “The pandemic took it’s toll and we should know exactly how.”

She cites her elected experience on the Snohomish County Children’s Commission and as a board member of the Pakistan Association of Greater Seattle. She has been a real estate broker, a court-appointed child advocate and a medical assistant. She has a pair of master’s degrees, one in biology, the other in social work. Her son, she says, was born at Stevens Hospital, when it was still called that.

As an immigrant, Shad said in an interview, she brings a perspective her opponent doesn’t have. With it, she believes she can reach people who might not be reached otherwise.

Asked if her politics would affect her work as a hospital commissioner, Shad said her personal views already don’t interfere with her community service.

“I would be working for the best interest of the community, which means every person in the community, regardless of their party or affiliation,” she said.

Shad was highlighted in an October 2019 campaign ad in The Daily Herald for Republican Anna Rohrbough, a County Council candidate. In it, Shad was portrayed as a supporter who “brings a unique perspective to life in Snohomish County” — an immigrant and a mother with a “tough love” approach to issues like addiction.

Since then, Shad has been a fast-rising star in the local Republican Party. She has spoken out against Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 mandates, in favor of former President Donald Trump and in support of police beleaguered by months of protests.

She was quoted in a Herald story about a local “Million MAGA March” on Jan. 6, the day insurrectionists stormed the nation’s capitol.

“This is happening because God wants to shake this nation,” she told a Herald reporter. “God wants to bring people like you and I out here to tell the people destroying our country that we are not going to take it. We are going to take our country back.”

Four days later, Shad was quoted in The Seattle Times questioning whether the insurrectionists were Trump supporters or enemies in disguise.

“Just because you’re wearing a Trump hat doesn’t mean you are a Trump supporter,” she said.

At a Snohomish School District board meeting June 9, Shad spoke out against critical race theory, against displaying LGBTQ pride and Black Lives Matters flags in the classroom, and against requiring students to wear masks.

“Let our kids breathe,” she said. “We don’t want our children surviving. We want them thriving.”

On Aug. 13, she attended the “No Mandatory Jabs March” in Olympia. She could be seen in a video talking to a group of people circled around her.

“We need to get in their face with the facts. We need to give them the dose of whatever they are trying to feed us,” she says. “Remember, yes, don’t take the vaccine, but if you want to take the vaccine, it’s your choice. That is what America is about. It’s about choices.”

She attended the “No. You Move” rally Oct. 3 in Olympia opposing the governor’s vaccine mandate. In pictures from the event, she’s wearing a red hat with Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

On Facebook, she often shares memes and articles critical of Inslee.

“My prayers for all who are being targeted today for choosing freedom over fear!” she wrote Oct. 18, the day Inslee’s vaccine mandate went into effect.

In an interview, she said her views are rooted in constitutional rights.

“I believe every person should have the right to choose for themselves,” she said.

Distelhorst said he didn’t know much about his opponent. He searched her name once on Google, he said, “and saw a bunch of confusing things.” He didn’t do any further research.

“I have to make my pitch,” he said, “and we’ll see what she comes up with.”

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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