The Medical Quality Assurance Commission said Dr. Johnny Delashaw had intimidated subordinates and put patient care at risk.

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A Washington state panel has suspended the medical license of Dr. Johnny Delashaw, a prominent surgeon who was recently featured in a Seattle Times investigation about Swedish Health’s neuroscience unit.

The Medical Quality Assurance Commission wrote in documents dated May 5 that the immediate suspension of Delashaw’s license was warranted because “of an immediate threat to the public health and safety.” Delashaw has 20 days to respond to the charges and request a hearing, officials said, and he cannot practice in the state until the charges are resolved.

Delashaw attorney Carol Sue Janes said Tuesday that Delashaw strongly disagrees with the commission’s decision.

“It is unfortunate that the Commission took this one-sided action without giving Dr. Delashaw any opportunity to present the opposing evidence,” Janes said. “The totality of the evidence will show that the statutory standard for this type of summary action has not been met, and will support his well-deserved reputation as a world-class neurosurgeon.”


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In documents filed to support the suspension, commission officials said Delashaw had intimidated subordinates by yelling, swearing and making threatening movements toward staff members. That had a chilling effect on staff members, according to the commission, and some became afraid to ask Delashaw questions that were needed to properly care for patients.

“This reluctance of staff to engage (Delashaw) imparted an enormous amount of risk onto the patients,” wrote Melanie de Leon, executive director of the commission.

The commission described occasions when Delashaw directly tried to suppress questions about his work. After a staff member expressed concern about how Delashaw scheduled multiple surgeries to run at the same time, Delashaw demanded that the reporting nurse be disciplined for raising the issue, according to the commission’s statement. In another case, a nurse said Delashaw asked that she not fill out problem reports about him, his fellows or his patients.

The commission said Delashaw’s behavior also put patient care at risk by triggering an exodus of experienced nurses.

Delashaw’s “disruptive and abusive behavior compromised team effectiveness and created an unreasonable risk of patient harm that was below the accepted standard of care,” the commission wrote.

Delashaw has a reputation as a workhorse surgeon who handles hundreds of cases each year. He is the top recipient of public pension dollars in the state of Oregon from years spent working at Oregon Health & Science University. He came to Seattle in 2013 after a stint at the University of California, Irvine, where he had been dealing with an internal investigation and allegations about the quality of his care.

Delashaw faced more internal complaints after he arrived at Swedish, according to documents obtained by The Times. But he also emerged as the highest-volume brain or spine surgeon in the state, with state data showing he handled 661 inpatient cases totaling more than $86 million in billed charges for the hospital in his first 16 months.

Administrators then promoted Delashaw to serve as chair of the Swedish Neuroscience Institute.

Three weeks after The Times’ investigation ran in February, Delashaw stepped down from his position and stopped practicing at Swedish. It’s unclear whether he is currently practicing anywhere else.

Swedish’s interim CEO has apologized to staff for leadership lapses, saying Swedish leaders did not act quickly enough on their concerns about the organization’s shifting culture.

“Over the past few months, we’ve worked diligently to evaluate and improve our systems and processes, in particular our internal communications, and we will continue to work together to provide the best care for our patients in a positive, supportive work environment that values all people,” wrote Dr. Guy Hudson, the interim CEO, in a statement Tuesday.

State regulators also are conducting a broader investigation into the practices at Swedish-Cherry Hill. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is also investigating.