SEATTLE (CN) — An emergency room physician who says he was fired for complaining about inadequate Covid-19 safety procedures at a Washington state hospital has sued for wrongful termination.
Dr. Ming Lin says he was relieved of his position at PeaceHealth St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham when he shared concerns on Facebook after his calls for change were ignored by management, according to a complaint filed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.
“By firing a doctor for pointing out its shortcomings, particularly at a time when every doctor is urgently needed, PeaceHealth prioritized its own reputation over the health and well-being of the communities it is supposed to serve,” Lin’s attorney Jamal Whitehead, ACLU-WA cooperating attorney at Schroeter Goldmark & Bender, said in a statement.
Lin spoke with hospital officials about protocols regarding admission of patients, screening of virus symptoms for visitors, and lack of safety equipment and COVID-19 testing for staff, according to the complaint.
Alarmed by the lack of response, Lin says he posted about the problems on social media “appealing to the public for much needed supplies and equipment for St. Joseph.”
The hospital does not have social media or media policies prohibiting Lin’s use of Facebook, the complaint says.
Rather than spark meaningful dialogue, the posts provoked outrage from the hospital public relations department, Lin says.
On March 17, he received a voicemail from St. Joseph’s emergency room director saying Lin had “hit a massive beehive” and “the PeaceHealth administration is super pissed and when you start maligning and disparaging the place of employment your employer may not be too happy,” according to the complaint.
After Lin continued to post about the hospital’s inadequate response, he was removed from the schedule on March 27.
Lin has been an ER physician for 30 years, including for the ER at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City during 9/11. He worked at St. Joseph for more than 17 years.
TeamHealth, a medical staffing firm that technically employed Lin, said in a statement that “any claim that TeamHealth terminated Dr. Lin is simply false.”
According to the complaint, when Lin asked for reinstatement at St. Joseph, a TeamHealth official told him: “While we believe your actions and comments both inside and outside of work were intended to be constructive and a catalyst for change, unfortunately it is not possible for you to return to PeaceHealth.”
TeamHealth offered Lin part-time work far from his home and at lower pay, he says.
On April 4, website ZdoggMD published an interview with PeaceHealth’s Chief Operating Officer Richard DeCarlo, who confirmed PeaceHealth asked Lin to be removed for “creating a toxic environment,” according to the complaint.
DeCarlo also accused Lin of being “scared and afraid,” and posting untrue information on Facebook, the lawsuit says.
PeaceHealth spokeswoman Bev Mayhew said Wednesday that PeaceHealth asked TeamHealth to remove Lin “because he chose not to use designated safety reporting channels, and his actions were disruptive, compromised collaboration in the midst of a crisis and contributed to the creation of fear and anxiety among staff and the community.”
Washington state had the first major outbreak of Covid-19 in the United States, and Democratic Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency on Feb. 29.
St. Joseph is the only hospital in Whatcom County.
As of Wednesday, Whatcom County had 382 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 33 deaths, including over a dozen positive test results among St. Joseph staff, according to the complaint.
Defendants include PeaceHealth, Northwest Emergency Physicians dba TeamHealth and DeCarlo. Lin seeks reinstatement, lost wages and defamation.
“I want PeaceHealth to listen to, not fire, people who point out problems and offer solutions that could lead to better health outcomes,” Lin said in a statement.