'We're fighting this blind': Bellingham ER doctor speaks out before losing his job

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- A veteran emergency room physician has reportedly been fired from a Bellingham hospital after publicly voicing concerns about how the hospital has been handling COVID-19.

Dr. Ming Lin worked in the ER at Peace Health St. Jospeh's Medical Center for nearly 18 years before he says he was fired on Friday. We spoke with Dr. Lin the evening before he terminated. He told us he was concerned about how speaking out could affect his job, but felt it was what he needed to do in order to protect patients and his staff.

"My biggest concern is that we're fighting this blind," he said.

Those are the words of Dr. Min after completing his shift on Thursday night, as he dealt with the stress of both COVID-19, and the potential repercussions of speaking to a reporter.

"You know I had to really think about this, the stress that is going to put on myself, my family. You know, I'm putting my career on the line here," he said.

At the time of this interview, he didn't know that Thursday shift would be his last at St. Joseph's.

"We're not protecting our staff very well; we're not protecting our patients."

Dr. Lin has arguably seen it all. He was working at a trauma center in New York City during 9/11.

"I remember feeling a sense of anxiety waiting for the first patient to come, but the thing is, that came and went, you know, within an hour," he explained. "Once we started working it became routine for us, but with COVID, you're sitting there, you're kind of waiting, and you don't know where the enemy is."

Lin told us Thursday that biggest issues the hospital is facing are a lack of PPE for staff, a lack of COVID-19 tests and the long turnaround times in getting test results.

"You can feel the stress among the staff, not knowing which one is COVID and which one is not...they tell certain nurses they can't wear a mask, and then they find out later on the patients they were treating and COVID, and then they take it home to their family," Lin said.

Lin said the hospital has had situations in which a patient is treated for something non-COVID related, so staff was told not to wear PPE. But Dr. Lin said it came out later that the patient did have the virus.

A representative for the hospital said it's true: if a patient comes in for, let's say, a broken leg, staff would not wear PPE they would wear if the patient thought they had a virus. They said it crucial for all hospitals nationwide to preserve their PPE.

Lin said he's been in contact with numerous companies willing to help with the PPE shortage.

"I do feel as a community we can pull together and provide adequate equipment that we need, but it's just if Peace Health wants to take that initiative," he said.

Staff with Peace Health said they, too, are working with various companies to help with the PPE shortage. They also said today they received 48 ventilators and have a tent set up outside the hospital if it's needed.

While testing is still limited, the labs they're using have recently been able to significantly improve testing turnaround time.

The hospital declined to comment on Dr.Lin and his termination directly, but Charles Prosper, the hospital's chief executive, released the following statement:

"We really want to assure our local community about the medical centers readiness to respond to this health crisis, it's crucial that these facts get out because there is a fair amount of misinformation and assertions being made about he safety and readiness of Peace Health St. Joseph's Medical Center." 

Peace Health contracts emergency room personnel through TeamHealth. A statement from TeamHealth sent to the Associated Press does not address Dr. Lin's departure from the hospital, but reads in part that "we are committed to engaging with him to try to find a path forward."

When we spoke with Lin Thursday, he said he knows we can all get through this together, but it has to be OK to ask for help.

"It's OK to tell the community, 'Hey we are not that prepared, we need help,' and the community will come together and help you. I saw that in 9/11," Lin said. "People will come and help you, but we have to be able to be truthful about it and we have to be able to trust each other."