PeaceHealth Sets Up Straw Man of Dr Lin

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The letter from PeaceHealth that appeared in the Sunday Bellingham Herald attempts to counter the efforts of an unnamed physician, but obviously it’s Dr. Ming Lin. To wit: “And it’s heart-wrenching to watch our collective achievements become overshadowed by the opinions of a single physician.”

Bottom line is this: The letter praises the personal work of the entire hospital staff for their efforts to meet the Covid-19 crisis. But it does not say a word about what Dr. Lin criticized, which was the lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) for this same valued hospital staff under the direction of PeaceHealth administrators. And that remains a serious shortcoming at the hospital. The public relations (PR) folks at PeaceHealth set up a straw man and criticized it, in an attempt to counter Dr. Lin.

Dr. Lin never criticized his fellow hospital staff, many of whom he worked with for 17 years. He never criticized the achievements of his fellow staff members.

PeaceHealth, the corporate manager and owner of St. Joseph Medical Center, was the target of his criticism for not providing PPE to the staff - the doctors, nurses, facilities staff, and clerical folks. He criticized PeaceHealth for not implementing the safety measures and practices for staff and patients that other hospitals in the Puget Sound area were using. His purpose was to get improved protection for his fellow employees.

PeaceHealth corporate has nine media contacts for the 10 hospitals it owns. One contact, Beverly Mayhew, manages the PR for St. Joe’s. She told me that the idea and the letter came from St. Joe’s Chief of Staff Dr. Anna Dowling. I did not believe her then, and certainly do not believe her now. I worked in PR. The full page ad in the Sunday Bellingham Herald had to have been contracted days ahead of time - and the ad had to be to the Herald by Friday. The letter started circulating Thursday morning, April 2. It was revised later in the day after many doctors refused to sign because it mentioned Dr. Lin by name. They wanted only a forward-looking letter. Deadline for signing was 5 pm Thursday.

PeaceHealth insists there was no coercion, that it was just an email requesting doctors to sign. Yet, Mayhew admitted to me in a phone call that she “helped” and “facilitated” getting the doctors to sign the letter. Any time the boss asks an employee to do something outside the job they are hired to do, there is a certain amount of intimidation. St. Joe’s - I should say PeaceHealth - has a reputation among their staff of retaliatory action for speaking out or criticizing. Dr. Lin is an example. Several hospital staff, and those who work with staff, have reinforced this for me over the past couple weeks.

Let’s look at the three iterations of this letter and how Dr. Lin features, then is removed, then returns via innuendo after the hospital’s doctors have signed.

Below is the preamble of the first version of the letter, from Thursday morning. Notice Dr. Dowling did not send the letter, but it was sent “on her behalf.” This is the PR folks operating.

Sent on behalf of Dr. Anna Dowling, Chief of Staff

Medical Staff colleagues,

My heart is filled with despair as I watch division and distrust spread through our community following the departure of Dr. Lin. As Chief of Staff at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, I am seeing first-hand the extraordinary amount of work my colleagues are doing to prepare our hospital and clinics for Covid-19. And it’s heart-wrenching to watch our collective achievements become overshadowed by the opinions of a single physician.

I want you to hear the other side of the story. I want you to hear our story.

But many doctors would not sign this version because it criticized Dr. Lin. So, mid-day it was revised and sent around again. Remember, a full newspaper page ad in the Herald must have been reserved for Sunday. Dr. Lin’s name is deleted and on Thursday afternoon the doctors are asked again to sign, with PeaceHealth PR manager Beverly Mayhew - by her own admission to me - “helping” and “facilitating” the signings. Please note the change of tack in the prologue.

Dear Colleagues,

I want to thank you all for the huge outpouring of support for this letter. I also want to acknowledge the concerns being voiced about the letter directly addressing the situation involving Dr. Lin. This letter is certainly not intended as a tool to encourage people to choose sides. In the interest of making the letter something we can all stand behind as we try to provide reassurance to our community, I have changed some of the wording. If this new version is something you support, please let Chris Blake and I know that you are willing to sign it.

If you have already agreed to sign, you do not need to respond again. If you agreed to sign but then rescinded and are now willing to sign, you will need to let us know.

Thank you, Anna

Residents of Whatcom County,

My heart is filled with despair as I watch division and distrust spread through our community in the wake of the publicity that has centered around our hospital. As the Chief of Staff at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, I am seeing first-hand the extraordinary amount of work my colleagues are doing to prepare our hospital and clinics for Covid-19. And it’s heart-wrenching to watch our collective achievements get overshadowed.

But between the time the hospital doctors signed this version, and the ad’s appearance in the Bellingham Herald on Sunday, the reference to Dr. Lin was put back in. Not his specific name, but I bet you can find it.

To our community:

My heart is filled with despair as I watch division and distrust spread through our community in the wake of the negative publicity that has centered around our hospital. As a MD and Chief of Staff at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, I am seeing firsthand the extraordinary amount of work my colleagues are doing to prepare our hospital and clinics for COVID-19. And it’s heart-wrenching to watch our collective achievements become overshadowed by the opinions of a single physician.

”... by the opinions of a single physician.” The reference to Dr. Lin was reinserted. PeaceHealth created this letter, not to praise their employees, but as push-back against Dr. Lin. Because it bears repeating: Dr. Lin never criticized his fellow medical workers. He worked courageously to get, for all of them, better protection against Covid-19, and was fired because of his efforts. Further, his fellow doctors would not sign the letter that was critical of him. Indeed, many of those who eventually signed, made the elimination of Dr. Lin’s name a prerequisite to their signature. But they snuck him back in.

About only half the physicians at St. Joseph Hospital signed any version of the letter. You would not know that from the ad in the Herald.The strong effort at the hospital was to get all the doctors to sign, and this goal required PeaceHealth to delete the reference to Dr. Lin. Even with that concession, most refused.

My sources come from people who forwarded me copies of what was circulating at the time; those associated with the hospital who phoned and emailed me with information but who worried about their names being leaked, as they very much feared retaliation; and of course Beverly Mayhew, who was repeatedly outraged at my questions during our phone conversation and probably told me more than she should have. I did not mention her name in my first article, or even her gender, but given the effort by PeaceHealth to marginalize Dr. Lin, to discredit our reporting, and because of questions by some who suggested I was just “musing,” I felt it necessary to reveal her name. During our phone conversation, she never asked to go off the record. When I asked for contact information for Dr. Dowling, she said she did not have it. So, she was my source on the origination of the letter. It originated with PeaceHealth PR.

Finally, sad news. As of last Friday, fourteen - 14 - staff members at St. Joseph Hospital had tested positive for Covid-19. Yet PeaceHealth corporate management, with no evidence whatsoever, insists none of them were infected at work. Now, Monday, PeaceHealth is no longer reporting any positive tests by hospital staff. It seems Dr. Lin’s warnings regarding poor protection for staff were prescient. Too bad they were ignored.

About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

David A. Swanson

Apr 06, 2020

PeaceHealth St. Joseph is part of the chain of for-profit healthcare operations under the unbrella of  RCCH/Capella, which has its corporate headquaters in Brenrtwood, TN, south of Nashville. PeaceHealth is headquartered in Clark County, Washington. St. Joseph’s in Bellingham (formerly a not-for-profit hospital) is not the only not-for-profit hospital founded by the Sisters of St.Joseph that has become a for-profit hospital under the RCCH/Capella umbrella. The company bought “Our Lady of Lourdes” in Pasco, founded by the Sisters over a century ago. It is now known as “Lourdes Medical Center.” Across the Columbia River from Pasco, Kennewick General Hospital, a non profit founded 70 or so years ago, entered bankruptcy several years ago and became  TRIOS womens Health, which is owned  by UW Medical Healthcare Holdings, LLC and managed and operated by RCCH.

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Steve Harris

Apr 07, 2020

David, 

Respectfully, you are incorrect.  PeaceHealth is a tax-exempt non-profit corporation and files a yearly Form 990. 

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David A. Swanson

Apr 07, 2020

Respectfully, Steve, the ultimate owner (maybe John can pull this curtain back on this because the names and history are not easy to put in a clear order) of PeaceHealth  is currently called Lifepoint, which merged with RCCH (which was/is owned by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm listed on the NYSE as APO),. RCCH, in turn, was the result of a “merger” betwen a regional health care system in Tennessee and Capella Healthcare Systems.  Lifepoint was a publicly-traded for-profit company  (see, e.g., http://lifepointhealth.net/news/2018/11/16/lifepoint-health-and-rcch-healthcare-partners-announce-completion-of-merger) that went private in  2018 following its merger with RCCH  and is no longer listed on NASDAQ. Because PeaceHealth is under the RCCH/Capella-Lifepoint “umbrealla” (or whatever the ultimate hame the owner is called), it is part of a  entity that needs to generate a profit and, as such, I find it hard to believe that at the end of the day, PeaceHealth itself does not need to generate a “profit,” however that may be labeled by an organization that is listed as tax-exempt and non-profit.

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Abe Jacobson

Apr 07, 2020

Thank you NW Citizen for another trenchant “look under the hood”. I am saddened and appalled that Peace Health snuck in a last minute false accusation against a “single doctor”. You are correct that this was a classic PR maneuver.


It matters little whether the tax attorneys treat Peace Health as “nonprofit”. That just means there are no shareholders, public or private. But this frees PH operating profit for lavish remuneration of senior management. According to recent surveys, their senior executives have made more than comparable “for profit” hospitals for several years, and continue to do so. PH was allowed by sleeping (or winking) elected officials to secure an airtight monopoly for NW WA north of Everett. Is it any surprise that its billing rates for comparable services are starkly higher than those of comparable hospitals in more competitive environments (see CMMS compilations)?

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Steve Harris

Apr 08, 2020

I’m not here to “carry water” for PeaceHealth, their actions amid this pandemic have not gone unnoticed by the community and won’t soon be forgotten. My only agenda is to ensure that factual information is being disseminated and I have yet to see (or find) and evidence that Lifepoint Health, RCCH, etc has any affiliation with PeaceHealth. If you have such evidence, I’d love to see it. Accusing PeaceHealth of being some sort of puppet to a larger for-profit corporation is a pretty big claim to make without presenting any sort of evidence to support the claim.

You’ve provided information that Lourdes Medical Center in Pasco was purchased by Lifepoint Health, but at the time of purchase, it was owned by Ascension Health (another Catholic non-profit). Accoding to their (Lourdes) history (https://www.yourlourdes.com/history/) they’ve never been affiliated with PeaceHeath. I’m not even sure that the Sisters of St Joseph (who founded Lourdes Hospital) and the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace (who founded St Joseph Hosptial) are even related to each other—I don’t believe they are.  

Abe makes a fair point about non-profit status when it comes to executive salaries. When CEO’s and other executives recieve bonuses as part of their compensation packages, it can lead to “profits” being the primary driver. I’d be interested in seeing any survey that shows that PeaceHealth execs are making substanitally more than similarly sized health care systems.  Here is a link to the latest info on their salaries:

https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/2300/HospPatientData/EmployeeComp/Comp2018-PeaceHealth.pdf

 

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