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Doctor quits Whidbey General Hospital over web furor

Whidbey General Hospital CEO Tom Tomasino is mad as heck and he’s not going to take it anymore.

Tomasino announced to the hospital board Monday that Dr. Matthew Marquart, an orthopedic surgeon, quit his job because of a website that is critical of Whidbey General Hospital administration and features unflattering information about surgeons and their salaries.

“I can’t allow our physicians or surgeons to leave this organization because one man has license to say what he wants about this institution,” Tomasino said.

He was referring to Greenbank attorney Rob Born, who started an investigative blog, whidbeygeneralreformers.org, last year to highlight what he claims are myriad scandals involving the hospital’s administration.

According to Tomasino, the top-notch surgeon felt it would be harmful to his reputation and future job prospects if he stayed at Whidbey General while Born continued publishing damaging reports. In addition, Tomasino discussed another surgeon who was so upset about the blog that he threatened to sue Born for defamation.

Tomasino said the hospital’s attorneys had advised him not to get into a public debate with Born, but he said he now feels he needs to “engage” him. He said a public entity like a hospital has little legal recourse to do anything about such critics. Tomasino added that the only thing that will make Born happy is if board member Dr. Paul Zaheruha leaves and he, Tomasino, is fired.

In an interview after the meeting, Tomasino said he may publish information on the hospital’s website to counter Born’s blog, which he described as “not entirely accurate,” “one-sided” and “over-the-top.”

Several of the hospital commissioners were also very critical of Born. Board President Anne Tarrant said she was concerned that other doctors will leave because of his blog.

“He’s trying us in the court of public opinion using what he calls facts with no validity,” she said.

Commissioner Grethe Cammermeyer attacked Born personally by suggested that he lost a job in Seattle because “maybe they found him incompetent.”

But Dr. Gabe Barrio, the chief of staff, warned Cammermeyer that hospital leaders should remain professional.

“We shouldn’t call him names, we shouldn’t call him incompetent . . . we shouldn’t play his game,” he said, but Cammermeyer defended her comment about Born being “incompetent.”

Hospital officials, however, did not offer specifics on what was inaccurate or false on Born’s blog.

Tomasino and the board members decided to continue to discuss their response to Born’s blog at a leadership retreat next month.

Tuesday morning, Born said in a phone interview that he was shocked Dr. Marquart would quit over his blog.

“I’m sad to hear he’s left or leaving,” Born said. “If it’s because of me, he’s got the thinnest skin I’ve ever heard of.”

Born wrote about Marquart in one “issue” entitled “Is WGH Overpaying Its Surgeons?” He wrote that Marquart is a new doctor, fresh out of residency, and will make a minimum of $463,000 in his first year. Born suggested that the pay was “astonishingly lucrative,” though he made a point of saying he blamed the administration, not the doctors, for the pay.

“I do not wish to pick on Dr. Marquart, who I trust is an excellent surgeon, and who should be a valuable addition to the hospital. However ... WGH just agreed to pay over $400,000 guaranteed for a non-board-certified doctor of osteopathy only five years removed from a 1-star medical school to serve at this low-productivity rural facility that performs only relatively simple surgeries,” Born wrote.

In addition, Born included such information as ratings from online sources for surgeons’ medical schools and medical facilities where the surgeons had worked.

Born said he would welcome any kind of response from Whidbey General officials about his blog. He said his purpose in creating the website was to open a dialogue. He said he’s asked Tomasino many times for responses, but was ignored.

 

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