ACLU-WA files suit on behalf of emergency room doctor fired from St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Bellingham for exposing COVID-19 safety deficiencies

News Release: 
Thursday, May 28, 2020
BELLINGHAM – Today, the ACLU of Washington filed suit on behalf of Dr. Ming Lin, a physician with over 30 years of emergency room experience, who was relieved of duty after exposing inadequate COVID-19-related safety procedures at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Bellingham, WA. St. Joseph’s is owned by PeaceHealth, a non-profit, religiously-affiliated health care system based in Vancouver, WA.
Concerned for the safety of both staff and patients, Dr. Lin spoke with management at the hospital about protocols regarding the admission of patients and the safety of staff members. Worried the hospital would not take his concerns seriously, he shared them on social media and with the press. He reported that the hospital did not quickly screen visitors, provide sufficient protective equipment, and adequately test staff. Such deficiencies could put everyone at St. Joseph’s Medical Center at grave risk of contracting COVID-19, which for many patients, and the physicians and staff that attend to them, could have a life-or-death consequences. After his social media posts, the medical center began to change procedures to address the concerns raised by Dr. Lin. He was removed from the emergency room schedule shortly thereafter. Since then, Dr. Lin has been encouraging community support of employees at the medical center and improved health care outcomes in Bellingham in general.
Dr. Lin’s experience as an emergency room doctor at St. Vincent’s hospital in New York City on 9/11 informs his understanding of the preparation and procedures needed to save lives in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic. “As a medical doctor, my primary concern is keeping patients and the essential health care workers that care for them safe and healthy,” said Dr. Lin. “I want PeaceHealth to listen to, not fire, people who point out problems and offer solutions that could lead to better health outcomes.”
“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,” said Jamal Whitehead, ACLU-WA cooperating attorney at Schroeter Goldmark & Bender. “When a hospital cares more about public relations than its patients and staff, who can the community trust?”
“Hospitals must not just care for patients, they must care for entire communities, and that requires responsibility for the failures that whistleblowers point out,” said ACLU-WA Senior Staff Attorney Antoinette Davis. “Rather than stifling speech and removing individuals that point out deficiencies in their practices, they instead should listen, eliminate the problems that threaten people’s health, and encourage the experts on their staff to come forward with solutions.”
Representing Dr. Lin are ACLU-WA senior staff attorneys Antoinette Davis, Nancy Talner, and John Midgley, and ACLU-WA cooperating attorneys Jamal Whitehead, Lindsay Halm, and Elizabeth Hanley of Schroeter Goldmark & Bender.
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Court Case: 
Lin v. PeaceHealth