Doctor fired after criticizing virus response at hospital

A photo provided by Ming Lin, date not known, shows Dr. Ming Lin, an emergency room doctor at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Wash. Lin said Friday, March 27, 2020, he was fired after publicly criticizing the hospital’s coronavirus preparations. (Dr. Ming Lin via AP)

A photo provided by Ming Lin, date not known, shows Dr. Ming Lin, an emergency room doctor at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Wash. Lin said Friday, March 27, 2020, he was fired after publicly criticizing the hospital’s coronavirus preparations. (Dr. Ming Lin via AP)

By Gene Johnson

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — An emergency room doctor who publicly criticized the coronavirus preparations at his hospital in Bellingham has been fired.

Dr. Ming Lin, an ER doctor at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham for the past 17 years, confirmed his firing in a message to The Associated Press on Friday night.

On Facebook and in media interviews Lin has repeatedly criticized what he saw as a sluggish 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.

He described taking steps to help the hospital obtain cots and personal protective gear being offered by local companies — efforts that garnered him a loyal local following, but, he said, also brought warnings from superiors to stop speaking out.

St. Joseph’s did not immediately return an email seeking comment, but The Seattle Times reported that a spokesperson confirmed Lin was fired by TeamHealth, a national health care staffing company. TeamHealth did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

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.”

In a statement released March 20, the day after The Seattle Times ran a story about Lin’s criticism, the hospital’s chief executive, Charles Prosper, insisted that the hospital was taking its preparations seriously. Prosper said the hospital had started restricting nonessential visitors and screening those who did enter for fevers, among other steps.

Prosper told The Bellingham Herald this week that “several” staff members at the hospital have tested positive.

Whatcom County had its first confirmed case by March 10. It has now had 92 confirmed cases and four deaths. At least 27 residents and 18 staff at a skilled nursing facility in Bellingham had tested positive as of Thursday.

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