Longview-bred neurosurgeon Johnny Delashaw says he is the victim of a conspiracy to oust him as chairman of the Swedish Neuroscience Institute in Seattle.
And a 121-page package of previously undisclosed emails may bolster his case — if his lawyers can prove the documents are authentic.
The package, sent anonymously in December from Swedish to Delashaw’s Arizona house, represents a wild plot twist in the world-renowned neurosurgeon’s prolonged fight to regain his medical license.
Delashaw, 60, voluntarily stepped down as chairman of SNI a year ago after a damaging Seattle Times investigative series raised questions about his leadership. The series, titled “Quantity of Care,” portrayed Delashaw as focused on increasing the hospital’s Medicare revenue by double-booking surgeries at the expense of quality.
Published in February 2017, the Times series prompted state Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent), chairwoman of the Senate Health Care Committee, to urge the state Department of Health to reopen an investigation into Swedish that previously was closed due to lack of evidence.
After his resignation, Delashaw abruptly lost his ability to practice medicine in May 2017 when the state Medical Quality Assurance Commission summarily suspended his license based largely on unproven allegations that he yelled at coworkers. It was the first time the commission has summarily suspended a doctor’s license based solely on claims of disruptive behavior, according to Delashaw’s lawyers.
Since then, dozens of local patients waiting to consult with Delashaw at his regular visits to the Kirkpatrick Family Medical Clinic in Longview have been left in the lurch.
“He was a very busy neurosurgeon, but he put a priority on helping Longview patients,” Dr. Rich Kirkpatrick said.
(Delashaw has been advised against giving media interviews by his attorneys.)
Kirkpatrick said Delashaw — a Mark Morris High School graduate — would make the two-and-a-half-hour drive to consult with Southwest Washington patients almost every Friday while he was at Swedish. Delashaw also regularly saw patients in Longview throughout his 20-year career at Oregon Health and Sciences University.
Although the Times series documented an uptick in surgical complications coinciding with a merger between Swedish and Providence Health and Services, Delashaw’s morbidity and mortality rates always were below the national average, said Kirkpatrick, who has known Delashaw for decades.
As one of the best neurosurgeons in the world, Delashaw was willing to treat older and sicker patients that more conservative colleagues declined to operate on, Kirkpatrick said. That eventually attracted patients from across the globe, but it occasionally ruffled feathers in the medical community, he said.
About half of the patients Delashaw would normally see are not receiving care, Kirkpatrick said, while the other half need to wait longer to see neurosurgeons in Portland or Vancouver.
“In the situation of Dr. Delashaw, you have a racehorse,” Kirkpatrick said. “A guy who’s used to working at least 16 hours a day every day and who gets by on five hours of sleep ... and he’s had nothing to do for a whole year. Imagine the stress of that.”
In Delashaw’s effort to get his license reinstated, his file at the state Department of Health has grown to include more than 10,000 pages of material. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent so far arguing both sides of the commission’s summary suspension.
Delashaw lost an appeal in Thurston County Superior Court last fall. Had he had won, the commission would have needed to prove he posed an “imminent threat” to public safety — even though he was not practicing medicine at the time of his suspension. Following the loss, a full hearing on the charges against him was set to begin Jan. 29.
But on Dec. 20, Delashaw mysteriously received a package containing what his lawyers have described as “inflammatory” email printouts, prompting them to file a motion to reopen discovery and continue the hearing. After reviewing the evidence, the presiding health judge granted the motion on Jan. 11 over an objection from the commission’s attorneys. A 10-day hearing is now scheduled to start April 23.
Delashaw’s legal team still is working to verify the emails’ authenticity. His attorneys have filed a motion requesting that the purported correspondence be entered as evidence under court seal to prevent interference into future criminal investigations that could potentially arise from the documents. The presiding health judge has not ruled on that motion yet.
The envelope of email printouts, sent Dec. 18 via FedEx, includes messages from email accounts belonging to the wives of SNI neurosurgeons Marc Mayberg and Charles Cobbs, according to legal filings. Mayberg is now a surgeon at the University of Washington Medical Center. Cobbs still is at SNI. Both men are witnesses in Delashaw's licensing matter.
If verified, the documents could prove the two neurosurgeons conspired to oust Delashaw as head of SNI to increase their own referrals and administrative salaries, according to Delashaw’s legal filings.
Mayberg, as the former executive director of SNI, allegedly tried to lure Delashaw away from his position as chairman of neurosurgery at the University of California in Irvine in February 2013. But Delashaw ultimately joined SNI in October 2013 as a Providence employee. This caused Mayberg — as a Swedish administrator — to worry that he would not receive the revenue generated by Delashaw’s surgeries, as he did with other neurosurgeons working at SNI, according to Delashaw’s legal filings.
Cobbs, meanwhile, is denying he ever received the first and most inflammatory email in the packet, sent on Nov. 6, 2016, which was described by Delashaw’s attorneys as “a proverbial smoking gun document.”
Attorneys representing Cobbs and Mayberg have called the email “a forgery.” Both Cobbs and Mayberg are denying the email is real, and an examination by a forensic analyst found the email was altered, they said.
“Any suggestion that Dr. Cobbs was involved in any scheme to make up information or mislead the Seattle Times is false and defamatory,” said Malaika Eaton, his attorney, in a statement to The Daily News. “He is troubled that this fake email was created. He is deeply concerned that this fake email is being used in an effort to undermine his testimony regarding Dr. Delashaw’s conduct while at Swedish.”
Mayberg’s lawyer offered a similar statement.
“The email of November 6, 2016, being attributed to Dr. Mayberg, is a forgery,” said Kurt Hermann, his lawyer. “The contents of the email are fabrications. His involvement as a non-party witness in the Delashaw licensing proceeding is a matter of pending litigation and his attorneys have asked him to say no more.”
But aside from the first email, Cobbs and Mayberg so far have not disputed the rest of the 121-page packet’s authenticity, according to Delashaw’s legal filings.
In their response, the commission’s attorneys have suggested the packet of materials could be a “red herring” intended to delay Delashaw’s hearing. The package’s timing could be assessed as “more convenient than coincidental,” the commission said.
The commission’s attorneys also contend that although the packet is new, its content is similar to information that was previously known and “merely corroborates it.”
The legal filings do not speculate as to who could have sent Delashaw the package — or why.
Delashaw’s lawyers say the documents reflect, at a minimum, that Cobbs failed to disclose a number of highly relevant documents and may have perjured himself during earlier depositions.
And another email indicates Mayberg and nurses who filed complaints against Delashaw may have testified falsely under oath and may also have violated state and federal privacy laws, according to Delashaw’s legal filings.
Delashaw also contends, according to his filings, that the emails suggest Mayberg and Cobbs provided false or misleading information to the media and leaked protected health information.
“He’s been disgraced, and unjustly in my opinion,” Kirkpatrick said. “He’s been taken from being a highly productive surgeon who was fixing people to being a monk. It’s not good.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect a pending motion by Delashaw's attorneys to have the 121-page package of purported emails filed under court seal.