Doctor critical of hospital measures against coronavirus is fired

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

An emergency room physician who spoke out against what he called a lack of protective measures against the novel coronavirus at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, has been fired.

Dr. Ming Lin, who has worked at the Bellingham hospital for 17 years and became a community hero for his pleas for more safety equipment and more urgent measures to protect staff, was informed of his termination as he was preparing for a shift at the hospital Friday afternoon, he said.

“I got a message that said, ‘Your shift has been covered,’” Lin told The Seattle Times. He phoned his supervisor and was told, “You’ve been terminated.” Lin said he was told he would be contacted by human resources staff from his employer, TeamHealth, a national firm that contracts with PeaceHealth’s emergency department.

TeamHealth, the national health care staffing company that does hiring for the hospital, insisted in a public statement Saturday it had not fired him but would try to find him somewhere else to work.

On Facebook and in media interviews Lin has repeatedly criticized what he saw as a delayed and inadequate response to the threat by the hospital’s administration. Lin insisted that the hospital was slow to screen visitors, negligent in not testing staff, wrong to rely on a company that was taking 10 days to process COVID-19 test results, and derelict in obtaining protective equipment for staff.

Lin alleged that PeaceHealth St. Joseph refused to screen all patients outside the hospital, bringing potential COVID-19 patients into the emergency room waiting area, which is frequently crowded.

Emergency department workers agreed that they shared Lin’s concerns about the possible spread of the virus.

The Washington State Nurses Association, American College of Emergency Physicians, and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine are among the organizations that have released statements supporting him and calling for his reinstatement.

“At a time when our state faces a critical shortage of front-line caregivers—as we are appealing for volunteers and trying to reactivate retired nurses and doctors and pressing nursing students into service—it is outrageous that hospital management could retaliate against health care professionals for speaking the truth,” the Nurses Association noted in a statement. “Dr. Lin bravely spoke out for the safety of hospital staff, patients and the public. He has been the voice for many nurses and other health care workers who are afraid to speak up out of the very real fear that they could be disciplined or fired.

“Our members on the front-lines at Peace-Health St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham report that they have run out of proper gowns to care for suspected and positive COVID-19 patients, are being directed to re-use and share Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) without proper cleaning per manufacturer guide-lines, are being given one surgical mask per day and being told to keep it in a paper bag between patients, and other unsafe measures,” the association noted.

“A basic principle of safety, subscribed to by hospitals and health systems across the nation is, ‘If you see something, say something.’ This concept is foundational to providing safe patient care.”

“As the medical director of the emergency department at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center I want to reassure the local Whatcom community that the emergency department has the equipment, supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE) available that we need to take care of whomever presents to us for care,” Dr. Worth Everett, the facility medical directior, said in a statement.

“Our preparations have been ongoing for many weeks and continue as information becomes available about emerging best practices and how they fit into our physical plant design of our ED and hospital’” he said. “There are stories of no masks, no gowns, no beds, and no equipment that unfortunately exist in other parts of the nation. For right now, that is not the case in our emergency department and our hospital.”

In an interview earlier this week, Lin said his criticism of the hospital was motivated in part by what he learned as an ER doctor at a hospital near the World Trade Center on 9/11. He said he worked at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, and the facility’s steady and competent response that day was due to the training and experience it had undertaken after being overwhelmed in the aftermath of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

“I feel so overwhelmed,” Lin said. “We’re like a high school basketball team that’s about to play an NBA team. The storm is coming, and I don’t feel that we’re prepared.”

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