The Washington Medical Commission has reinstated ex-Swedish neurosurgeon Dr. Johnny Delashaw’s license but placed the Longview native under administrative oversight for at least three years.
The order means that the renowned neurosurgeon could potentially resume consulting with patients in Longview, where he saw patients weekly at the Kirkpatrick Family Clinic before losing his license 14 months ago.
But the commission’s final order, dated July 5, could still leave Delashaw in limbo. As part of his reinstatement, Delashaw cannot hold a position that requires him to supervise other physicians. The restriction does not bar him from holding an academic position, although many medical teaching positions involve overseeing students who are technically considered physicians.
Delashaw declined to comment for this story Tuesday on the advice of his legal counsel.
His lawyers were informed of the commission’s ruling late Monday evening, and the state Department of Health announced the three-member panel’s decision Tuesday morning.
The commission said it considered Delashaw’s “long history of providing needed services to his community” and “no prior misconduct” as mitigating factors in its decision.
The commission summarily suspended Delashaw’s license in May 2017 — two months after he resigned as chairman of SNI in the wake of a Seattle Times series that raised questions about patient care under his leadership. Delashaw has since filed a libel and defamation suit against the Times, claiming the paper knowingly published false and misleading information.
In its written order last spring, the commission determined that Delashaw posed “an immediate threat to the public health and safety,” basing its decision largely on accusations of disruptive behavior toward nurses in 2015.
Delashaw vigorously denied the allegations and appealed the license suspension. Following a nine-day hearing that concluded on May 4, the commission reinstated his license but found that Delashaw “committed unprofessional conduct and created an unreasonable risk of patient harm” during his time at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute in Seattle.
The order reinstating Delashaw’s license also requires him to undergo a “comprehensive, multi-day evaluation” for disruptive behavior within three months.
Following his evaluation, Delashaw will be required to appear before the commission semiannually.
Delashaw must also pay a $10,000 fine within six months.
During this spring’s hearing, Delashaw’s lawyers called 11 former surgical fellows and colleagues at Swedish who testified that they never witnessed him engaging in disruptive behavior.
However, the commission sided with six different nurses who testified that Delashaw yelled, swore and pointed his finger on several occasions in 2015.
For example, Delashaw allegedly yelled “People are going to die if I can’t get my cases done” at a scheduling nurse after she told him he needed to wait for an operating room. The nurse testified that she could feel Delashaw’s spit on her arms when he yelled, according to the commission’s order.
Delashaw “engaged in multiple acts of intimidation of hospital staff, forming a disturbing pattern of behavior,” the commission wrote. “As a result of this pattern of intimidation, the respondent created an environment in which the ability of staff to provide safe patient care was put at jeopardy.”
The panel said it gave “little weight” to testimony from Delashaw’s supporting witnesses, citing “the very real power differential between physicians and nurses.”
“The fact that these witnesses did not see the behavior does not mean the behavior did not occur — it simply means that the behavior was not seen by these witnesses,” the commission said.
The standard of proof in disciplinary proceedings against physicians is “proof by clear and convincing evidence,” according to state law.
Delashaw was recruited to work at SNI in 2013 while serving as the chair of neurosurgery at the University of California Irvine. He had previously worked at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland for 20 years. His arrival at SNI coincided with a dramatic increase in patient volume following a merger between Swedish Medical Group and Providence Health & Services.
“Patient volume and complexity of cases increased significantly while (Delashaw) was at SNI,” the commission acknowledged in its order. “However, tensions also developed between (Delashaw) and hospital staff.”
In legal filings, Delashaw has argued that he was the victim of an internal power struggle that ensued after the two hospital systems merged.
Through the discovery process, his lawyers obtained a cache of emails sent between former SNI chair Dr. Mark Mayberg and SNI nuerosurgeon Dr. Charles Cobbs. Some of the men’s correspondence, sent from their wives’ email accounts, discussed a “confidential game plan” to oust Delashaw from his leadership position, according to legal documents.
Both men testified during Delashaw’s nine-day licensing hearing, but they are not mentioned by name in the commission’s final order.
Mayberg admitted to withholding documents subpoenaed by Delashaw’s lawyers during a deposition in December, according documents filed with the commission.
Cobbs, meanwhile, has been named as a co-defendant in Delashaw’s libel and defamation suit after a letter he sent to Swedish CEO Tony Armada was leaked to a Times reporter in the fall of 2016.
“Fundamental issues including respect for others, patient safety, appropriate surgery, and quality of care have been rebuffed by the leadership, in particular Dr. Delashaw,” Cobbs wrote in the letter.
At the same time, however, Cobbs blamed Delashaw for capping the amount he could earn through surgery at $800,000, according to Delashaw’s legal filings.
In a previous email chain, Cobbs told his colleagues that his old college friend — who graduated from Harvard Law School — had agreed to look at the letter to Swedish leadership about Delashaw and “knows exactly what we are dealing with.”
“He said the critical issue is not necessarily what we believe is our complaints but what will make the corporate people squirm,” Cobbs wrote. “These types of things include evidence of workplace violation of intimidation, female stress, etc. and even worse cover-up of any quality metrics etc. We need to get our act together to make sure we have access to documentation of these types of issues.”
But the medical commission said it did not factor Delashaw’s conflict with Cobbs and Mayberg into its decision.
“Any internal disputes the respondent may have had with other physicians at SNI regarding salaries or administrative control of SNI ... are not relevant to the fact that the respondent committed disruptive behavior,” the commission wrote.
Mayberg now works as a neurosurgeon at the University of Washington Medical Center, and Cobbs is still employed as a neurosurgeon at Swedish.