An emergency room doctor fired after speaking out about the lack of coronavirus safety protections at his workplace in Washington state is suing the hospital for wrongful termination.
Dr Ming Lin, who spoke to the Guardian from a reservation in South Dakota, where he works intermittently in an emergency room, said at the heart of this lawsuit is the issue of healthcare workers being free to speak out about safety concerns.
“For frontline workers to be threatened or silenced, it’s just wrong,” he said. “We put our life out there and we should have a right to speak out if we see something that’s unsafe.”
Dr Lin said since posting about his experience he has heard from hundreds of healthcare workers who have gone through a similar situation at other hospitals. One doctor, for example, told him about getting written up after she provided N100 masks for her nurses, while an anesthesiologist told him he was removed from his shifts when he wore an N95 mask inside an intensive care unit.
“I hope this lawsuit brings this to light and maybe there’s some legislative change that can be done,” he added.
In late February, when the coronavirus outbreak in the US was just beginning, Lin said he started to grow concerned about the safety practices at PeaceHealth St Joseph medical center in Bellingham, where he had been a physician for 17 years.
“We’re not doing as much as we can to protect our patients and healthcare workers,” he said he realized. “So I decided to go to social media.”
Lin started posting on his public Facebook account about not having enough protective equipment, long delays in receiving coronavirus test results, and risky virus screening practices in which patients were evaluated inside the waiting room.
According to the lawsuit, he sent a message to the hospital about his concerns and received a response stating that PeaceHealth’s PR department was “upset”.
By late March, the hospital had removed Dr Lin, who has about 30 years’ experience as a physician, from all of his shifts.
Now he has teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington in order to get his job back as well as monetary relief for “lost wages, economic damages and emotional distress”, explained Jamal Whitehead, an ACLU-WA cooperating attorney.
The lawsuit was also filed against Richard DeCarlo, PeaceHealth’s chief operating officer, and TeamHealth, a national medical staffing company. It references the fact that the hospital and TeamHealth have no social media policies prohibiting Facebook use.
Since going public with his concerns about safety practices at St Joseph, Dr Lin said the hospital had addressed all of the issues he brought up.
PeaceHealth said in a statement that they asked TeamHealth to remove Dr Lin because “he chose to not 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.”
TeamHealth said in a statement on Thursday that Dr Lin was still a paid TeamHealth physician and that they had offered to find another hospital placement for him.
Dr Lin said that if he were to take another position it would mean uprooting his wife and three young children to move to another part of the country, which he described as not reasonable.