Some of you who are reading this are aware I formerly worked for Fairview Lakes in Wyoming, MN. I was there from 3/8/04 until 9/16/10 at which time I was told to resign or be fired by Vicki Stevens, head of human resources (HR) and Dr. Barry Bershow from corporate. I resigned realizing resignation was my only hope to ever work again. Dismissal for cause would have meant an investigation by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice and a report to the National Practitioner Data Bank. In addition without any discussion, Dr. Bershow said my dismissal was because of my talk and a “few other things.” However, the “few other things” made me sound like I was not worthy to be a doctor. He said Fairview had concerns about my patient care, about my respect for diversity, about my ability to get along with others and about a refusal to follow guidelines recommended by Fairview.
When this happened, I had just a couple of weeks earlier, given a talk to the medical staff on medical ethics–the Oath of Hippocrates. When I asked Dr. Barry Bershow, the doctor who was dismissing me, if this was because of the talk, he said yes.
I had trouble finding a job. Only one place even gave me an interview, and then turned me down. I eventually joined the AALFA Family Clinic, a small pro-life clinic in White Bear Lake with three family doctors and one internal medicine doctor. They welcomed me with open arms. I’ve never worked in a clinic like this, one in which the doctors are kind, sincere and consistent. What you see in the exam room is who they are. They are not at all cynical. I’ve never heard them speak poorly of a patient–ever. As a lay person, you may not realize that doctors tend to be cynical types who may speak poorly of the patients when they think they are out of ear shot! I am so blessed to be at AALFA!
In any event, Fairview was contractually obligated to notify my patients of my new business address, phone number etc. in a letter. I sent them a letter in January 2011 asking them to do that and they did not respond. I sent it again in February 2011 by certified mail and they responded 5 weeks later, saying they had already done that. They had sent out a generic, “Dr. Anderson isn’t here, please schedule with our other doctors, etc.” the day after I left, but it had nothing to do with my contractual obligation as came out at trial. But they refused to send out an appropriate letter. Because of that, I decided to sue for a forced resignation. My contract specified any employment dispute had to be adjudicated by binding arbitration, so that’s what I asked for. My goal in suing was to hold Fairview accountable for violating my contract. I hoped to win a money award, not to enrich myself, but to get Fairview’s attention so that when another pro-life physician came along and took a moral stand, Fairview would think twice before dismissing him or her.
I learned several things because I sued. The first big surprise was their contention I was a bad doctor and that the talk was not the only reason I was dismissed! They had a list three pages single-spaced of my supposed sins, from doing to many hysterectomies to prescribing too many narcotics, to arguing too much in meetings, to not playing nice with some of the staff on the floors–and more.
At the trial, I was able to refute every charge they made quite effectively. Documents at trial proved I did fewer hysterectomies than my partner, Dr. Mericle, per hour worked in the clinic. That means I was just worked more hours than the rest which is why I did more surgery. The whole narcotic canard was based on rumor of the medical assistants. Dr. Mericle, my “dyad leader” didn’t even review a chart to see if that was true. I argued in meetings about the direction Fairview was taking to which their own witnesses admitted was the appropriate place to bring up disagreement. My yearly evaluations were always good. My re-credentialing for hospital privileges was never questioned. Their witness, the chief of staff, admitted he asked me to serve another term on the medical executive committee after he knew of all these charges against me because he viewed me a valuable member of the committee who made good contributions. Their witnesses tried to say my contract had been fundamentally changed by a reorganization Fairview went through in 2009, but then on cross exam also had to admit that my contract could not be changed except in writing by both parties and that it had never been changed. They brought up some conflict I had with another doctor, a head nurse and the clinic manager from years earlier like it just happened yesterday, events that had been long resolved.
One phrase they all said was this: Dr. Anderson was just not a good fit for Fairview. They based that on my arguing in meetings and e-mails against the path Fairview was taking. I argued against “cookbook” medicine in which a doctor is graded on how well he or she follows a protocol of medical rules with each patient. I explained it fundamentally changed the doctor patient relationship to make the doctor beholding to the protocol in order to get paid more instead of deciding what would be best for that particular patient in that particular setting. I argued against the lack of privacy with the electronic medical record (EMR). I argued against the poor communication with the EMR because the doctor’s notes were generated by templates that were generally ignored and I argued against the “bill-padding” that resulted from higher codes which the EMR easily generated which fraudulently increased income for the doctor and corporation. (I didn’t use the templates–I dictated with voice-recognition software. As a result, I billed honestly, my notes were easy to read and communicated well. Just practicing good medicine meant I was meeting the standards they set with rare exception.)
At trial, my attorney asked their witnesses about this arguing in meetings against the protocols and then would ask their witness if they checked to see if I had met the measures or used the protocols in the hospital in general. No one had checked. They just assumed since I didn’t want to follow a cookbook that I couldn’t possibly be practicing good medicine when the truth was most were easy to meet and I met them. Then my attorney would ask if the witness had known I was meeting the protocols, would that have mattered in their determination of my performance. They had to answer yes, of course.
The 800lb gorilla in the middle of the room the entire trial was my talk. They contended I was disrespectful of diversity. I contended my talk informed them of the need to truly understand the diversity of various religions and cultures, including the culture of conservative Christians. In addition, my talk illustrated how the Oath of Hippocrates was pro-life, how the Oath insisted medicine was a moral activity, how a belief in God was required by the Oath–all that and more. Each witness Fairview presented was asked if my dismissal had anything to do with my pro-life stand or my religious views. All said ‘no’. I don’t believe that for a minute. I met no pro-life conservatives in leadership in my 7 years there. Dr. Mericle charged me in her document and testified at trial that my pro-life views caused me to not counsel OB patients on the availability of genetic testing (False. But I did tell my patients the purpose behind the testing.) and caused me not to put in IUD’s under the false notion that the IUD caused abortion. (The IUD does cause early abortion by preventing implantation of the already formed embryo.) Those were two of the reasons I was fired. Vicki Stevens recorded notes of the phone conversation the 4 of them had at noon on the day they dismissed me. One phrase no one would claim which was part of that four-way conversation was that Dr. Anderson had “very right wing extreme radical viewpoints.” (This is just tongue-in-cheek conjecture on my part here, but I think that means I was a pro-life Republican. I’m just guessing.)
On and on it went with their witnesses actually helping my case more than their case. It was something to behold. By the time the trial ended, I felt completely vindicated.
Most importantly, I learned that my liberal, politically-left-leaning radical feminist pro-abortion partner, Dr. Mericle, was the one who started this whispering campaign behind my back about 6 months before I was dismissed. During that time, she developed this list of how terrible I was as a doctor, this list I knew nothing of until I filed suit. Also, she admitted at trial that she was the one who made the final decision that I should be fired, she and the clinic manager, Wendy Young. Also, the one who actually dismissed me, Dr. Bershow, had taken her word on everything and had not done any independent investigation at all into my performance as a doctor. Also, he and Vicki Stevens would have not fired me, but tried to discipline me, a course Dr. Mericle and Wendy Young rejected.
Dr. Mericle and her husband also owned the Nesting Grounds restaurant and coffee shop in Wyoming. They placed it for sale two months before my dismissal.
The trial boiled down to one question and one question only and that was this: Did I voluntarily resign or was I forced to resign? I contended that Fairview lied in presenting me with those two options of resign or be fired because they had no justification to dismiss me. Since they had no justification to dismiss me, I made my decision based on their lie, not on the truth of the situation. Therefore, I was forced to resign knowing that a dismissal for cause would end my medical career. They contend that my resignation was voluntary and that I had no standing to even bring the lawsuit.
The judge agreed with me and I won the case on its merits. The judge’s words were a joy to behold. He agreed with me completely. Fairview did violate my contract. They had no justification to fire me. All the charges they supposedly had against me were refuted at trial. My talk was clearly my own opinion, not Fairview’s opinion and did not warrant discipline or dismissal. The meeting at which I “voluntarily resigned” was based on subterfuge (Dr. Mericle lied to me to bring me over to the clinic). The judge concluded that since Fairview had no justification to fire me, they gave me a false choice of resign or be fired. I was forced to resign.
The judge awarded me a money amount less than my request. He contended my writing in WORLD magazine and in my church newsletter made me undesirable as a doctor and, as a result, no one would want to hire me. I was responsible for what I written, therefore Fairview was not. Also, he said I didn’t try hard enough to find similar employment.
Although his logic escapes me, I remain vindicated. The amount Fairview will pay will be noticed. And, through the providence of God, I found probably one of the only practices which would hire me–AALFA–a solidly pro-life clinic populated with doctors all of whom have a moral compass. God bless them all! A day doesn’t pass without me thanking God for this wonderful clinic where patients–all patients of every religious persuasion, even conservative pro-life Christian patients and devout Catholic patients–are treated with respect and dignity.
So that is what happened with my departure from Fairview. I am so thankful for all the prayers people have lifted to God on my behalf. I know I never could have survived the whole affair without them. It’s not easy to listen to former colleagues say bad things about you, but God sustained me. My family, God bless them all, supported me through this as well as they could.
My hope and stay through this entire event has be Habakkuk 3:17,18. It says,
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk 3:17,18 (ESV)
I know that God works out everything for good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose. But I also understand quite well that God’s good for me may not be my concept of God’s good for me. From a human perspective, I would expect “good for me” to be finding a wonderful job with little effort after my dismissal from Fairview, that I would soon have a satisfying, growing practice, that if I sued, I would win and win a large money award with little emotional strain or trauma.
But that’s not necessarily how God works. He could have decided I find work in rural South Dakota in the middle of nowhere, that I move away from my children and grandchildren, that I sue and lose totally to Fairview, or that I never find work again as an OB/GYN doctor and live the rest of my life in poverty. That could have been God’s “good” for me. Who can know the mind of God and who can be His adviser?
As a student of Christian history, the stories of great Christians helped me so much during this time.
I think of William Tyndale, a brilliant scholar who translated the scriptures (much of them anyway) from the original Greek and Hebrew into English. The king of England put a price on his head for doing that and he fled to France, where he was eventually betrayed by a close friend, spent two years in an unheated prison and was then burned at the stake as a heretic. The king of France did have some mercy on him, however, allowing him to be killed with one blow to the head prior to being burned at the stake. Shortly thereafter, the king of England allowed Tyndale’s translation. It was all casual politics for the king of England for which William Tyndale gave his life.
Adonirom Judson lost three wives in Burma, nearly lost his faith and then eventually became ill himself and died somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the only Christian on the boat–no family, no friends–and was dumped in the sea.
The stories go on and on of followers of Christ who died or suffered horribly with no recognition, no compensation. But living to bring glory to the King of Kings is enough. And death is only the beginning of glory. And that also is enough. It was enough for saints of old. I prayed then and pray now that it will be enough for me. Knowing that whatever happens, I will someday gaze on the face of God and rejoice for eternity in His presence means God is good, all the time, God is good. I know I deserve nothing but His wrath, but because of His great gift of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, I can live for Him now and I will, one day, experience heaven and worship Him forever, experience constant and complete joy, all for the temporary trial in this life.
My poor little problem seemed minor when compared to the suffering of these heroes of old!
So the Fairview chapter of my life is now closed. I’ve had two huge regrets about leaving Fairview like I did.
First, I left all my former patients with no word as to why I left or where I went. Even now, Fairview won’t tell my former patients when they call the Fairview OB/GYN clinic where I now practice. I saw two former patients just last week who had called the OB/GYN clinic at Fairview and were told Fairview could not/would not tell anyone where I was. That is despite testimony at trial that Fairview has been sharing my practice location with my former patients who called since April of 2011!
Second, I had no chance to say goodbye to so many people who worked there, friends whom I held dear. So many nurses, techs, anesthetists and others were such good friends. It came out in trial that, had I tried to walk back on the Fairview Lakes campus, security was at the ready to hammer-lock me and throw me off the premises (slight exaggeration). They were to be called to escort me off the premises if I showed up. As far as I know, that order has never been rescinded.
In this post, I’ve been careful to write what is accurate, true and documented in depositions, trial testimony under oath or the judge’s ruling. (Except the part about the Nesting Grounds. That information I found on the internet and make no conclusions about it.) I’ve no interest in harming my former employer as most of the people I worked with at Fairview were wonderful hardworking people delightfully committed to patient care.