This morning, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit in Whatcom County Superior Court against PeaceHealth, St Joseph Hospital, and TeamHealth for the wrongful termination of Dr. Ming Lin in March. Dr. Lin was an emergency room physician of 17 years at St Joseph who tried to alert the administration of serious gaps in safety for medical staff exposed to the coronavirus.
Dr. Lin wrote a letter to Charles Prosper, PeaceHealth chief executive for St Joes, in early March, received no reply, and then posted a second letter to facebook on March 17. One of our readers alerted us to the post and we contacted Dr. Lin to verify facts. On March 18, we broke the story and the next day the Seattle Times ran a comprehensive article by their reporter Ron Judd. Then on Friday, March 27, we broke the news that Dr. Lin had been fired and the Seattle Times again gave it an extensive article. The story went viral nationally, and then internationally, via the Guardian in London. The idea of firing a doctor who was trying to protect medical staff from COVID-19 was astonishing and newsworthy, if not worse.
After he was fired, PeaceHealth prepared a letter naming Dr. Lin and saying his concerns and criticism were wrong. The hospital tried to get all its doctors to sign the letter regarding Dr. Lin and to affirm that St Joseph’s was doing a great job. The majority of doctors refused to sign. The doctors were willing to sign a letter stating that hospital staff was doing a great job caring for those with COVID-19, but insisted the letter not mention the issue of protection measures and Dr. Lin. The following day, a revised letter was circulated for signatures, one that did not name Lin, and still response was muted as only a minority of the hospital’s doctors signed.
St. Joseph hospital then ran the letter as a full page ad in the Bellingham Herald on at least three separate occasions in an effort to get the letter before the public. However, the hospital inserted a reference to Dr. Lin in the letter, although not specifically naming him. This change occurred after signatures had been gathered, breaking trust with the doctors who had signed. Several sources who wish to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation have confirmed this change was made following pressure from PeaceHealth corporate.
The change involved the ending of one sentence, the original ending was “... watch our collective achievements become overshadowed.” to instead, “... watch our collective achievements become overshadowed by the opinions of a single physician.” This direct reference to Dr. Lin could end up costing PeaceHealth dearly.
The lawsuit is for both wrongful termination and defamation.
Since March, I have heard directly and indirectly from medical staff at St. Joseph’s and they all praise Dr. Lin for both his many years of skilled medical work and his criticism of PeaceHealth corporate for cutting corners on providing needed protections from the coronavirus to the medical staff. Which, in my mind, brings us to the real issue about this letter: It implies that Dr. Lin had criticized his peers, when in fact, he had only criticized hospital administration for not providing protection and safety equipment for medical staff. But PeaceHealth, from the corporate level to local administration, needed to use cheap tricks on its own medical staff in an effort to smear Dr. Lin.
The ACLU takes on legal cases that will change bad habits or challenge illegal policies in our society. By taking on Dr. Lin’s case, we can expect they hope to change the casual treatment of medical doctors as if they were serfs who can be ordered to work, fired, and transferred at the whim of, and for the profit of, international corporations that own small local hospitals and for-profit “rent-a-doctor” firms. In my opinion, it is a shameful business, and that is because health care is a for-profit business.
The Seattle Times is out this morning with a much more than this. Nothing in the Bellingham Herald, which figures as they were days late reporting on Dr Lin in March. PeaceHealth is a big advertiser with the Herald.
Finally, a note on Dr. Lin. Where is he today as the ACLU files on his and all medical practitioners behalf? He is in South Dakota working in the health care facility on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, home of the Lakota/Sioux tribe. Caring for the health of people in need.