A Thurston County judge has upheld the Washington Medical Commission’s decision last year to impose restrictions on a former Swedish Health neurosurgeon when reinstating his medical license, including barring him from holding a medical leadership position.
Judge James Dixon last week rejected arguments by attorneys for Dr. Johnny B. Delashaw, Jr., whose appeal sought to remove the restrictions on his license that also required him to submit to three years of oversight, pay a $10,000 fine, agree to be evaluated for disruptive behavior by an approved outside entity and comply with recommendations from the evaluators.
Delashaw, who was featured in a 2017 Seattle Times investigation about Swedish Health’s neuroscience unit, had contended in the appeal that the state commission considered irrelevant evidence about his character, erred when finding that he acted unprofessionally and issued unfair sanctions against him.
But the judge, in his three-page ruling dated Sept. 26, affirmed the commission’s decision in full, writing that “testimony and other evidence on the record are persuasive and consistent.”
“The Commission found that the unprofessional conduct of the petitioner contributed to a loss of experienced professionals and staff, thereby placing patients at increased risk,” Dixon ruled. “The record is replete with evidence regarding nurse and staff complaints, instances of being intimidated, being subjected to retaliation, and discouraged.”
Amy Magnano, one of Delashaw’s lawyers, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment about Dixon’s ruling Monday.
In an email Monday, a spokeswoman for the Washington Medical Commission said the panel always appreciates “when an independent review upholds all aspects of regulatory efforts as valid and fair, as the ruling from Judge Dixon did. We look forward to working with Dr. Delashaw to complete all of his compliance requirements …”
The three-member state medical commission summarily suspended Delashaw’s license in May 2017, saying he posed an “immediate threat to the public health and safety.” The panel found Delashaw had intimidated subordinates by yelling and swearing at them, creating a climate where staff members were reluctant to ask the type of questions needed to properly care for patients.
After Delashaw appealed that administrative order last year, the commission ruled to restore his license, but it included the restrictions. The panel’s July 2018 order said Delashaw’s “behavior negatively affected the culture of safety, ultimately replacing it with a culture of fear.” It added, “This led to a compromise of team effectiveness and, as a result, an unreasonable risk of patient harm.”
The commission also found evidence that Delashaw’s abrasive behavior led to an exodus of experienced nurses, further compromising patient safety. The order said the panel gave more credence to the testimony of multiple nurses who witnessed Delashaw’s outbursts than the surgeon’s very different accounts of the events.
Filed in October 2018, Delashaw’s latest appeal in Thurston County Superior Court contended among other arguments that the nurses’ testimony against him was the product of collusion and wasn’t credible.
Dixon’s ruling last week rejected that, finding “no evidence” to substantiate the claim.
A renowned physician, Delashaw was among the busiest brain and spine surgeons in the state during his tenure at Swedish. His patients resulted in tens millions of dollars in billings for the institution, according to state data.
Delashaw resigned as chair of the Swedish Neuroscience Institute in March 2017, less than three weeks after he was featured in The Times investigation, which documented a range of internal concerns about patient care that surfaced as the institute shifted toward a high-volume surgical practice. Among the concerns was the practice of booking multiple surgeries at the same time.
State health investigators later documented multiple problems at Swedish’s neurosurgery institute at the Cherry Hill campus, including failure to track when the lead surgeon was in the operating room and failure to heed staff concerns.
After an internal review, Swedish largely banned its doctors from scheduling overlapping surgeries.
In April 2018, Delashaw sued The Times and a Swedish doctor for libel and defamation, claiming he was the victim of false reporting and a conspiracy to undermine his reputation. That case remains ongoing.
The state medical commission is not aware of Delashaw now practicing in Washington, a spokeswoman said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the date of when Delashaw resigned as chair of the Swedish Neuroscience Institute.