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Doctor fired for helping health center workers submit grievance, attorney says

May 23, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Dr. Matthew Hahn was fired for helping Tri-State Community Health Center employees submit a grievance against the executive director, Hahn's attorney said Friday.

Details behind his dismissal finally emerged after three weeks of community questions and speculation, most notably at a public meeting with the health center's board this week.

After eight years of serving patients in the Tri-State area, Hahn, the center's medical director, lost his job April 30, said attorney Lynne Bernabei of the Washington, D.C., firm Bernabei & Wachtel.

Bernabei said that after Executive Director Leslie Colbrese fired Hahn, he grieved the firing to the board, alleging it was retaliation for his passing along employees' complaints about her.

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In a letter Hahn received Thursday, the board decided to pay him for the remainder of the 90 days and to stop working there, Bernabei said.

Colbrese didn't answer two phone messages left at her office Friday afternoon.

Board President Cordelia Carson and Vice President Ramani Pillai also couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

At a public board meeting in McConnellsburg, Pa., on Monday, Pillai told an audience of about 50 people that the board couldn't discuss Hahn's situation.

Hahn issued a statement Friday stating that it was not his medical work that got him fired and that he plans to keep practicing in the Tri-State area.

Asked during a phone interview when he might open a new practice, he said, "As far as I'm concerned, the sooner the better."

The federally funded Tri-State Community Health Center lets people with low incomes pay for care on a sliding scale. It operates clinics in Hancock, McConnellsburg and Cumberland, Md.

Several people in the audience at Monday's meeting praised Hahn as a dedicated community physician known to visit patients at home and, if needed, drive them to the hospital.

They spoke about his 2007 award as Maryland's Outstanding Rural Health Practitioner and his devotion to preventive care, such as the Health Olympics, in which people sign up to lose weight, exercise and eat healthy meals for about two months.

Hahn's lone detractor at the meeting was Dennis Fandl of Warfordsburg, Pa., who said he represented other people who are glad Hahn was fired, but are afraid to speak out.

The statement Hahn issued Friday, the day after he received his final termination notice from the board, took the board to task.

"My contract with Tri-State Community Health Center was terminated following my attempts to assist a large number of Tri-State's employees to bring significant workplace problems to light," he said. "I offered assistance out of concern for the health center, and in an effort to make it a better, stronger organization. The Tri-State Board of Directors and administration have blatantly ignored these concerns."

During a phone interview, he declined to talk more specifically about the alleged problems.

However, Bernabei said the employees' complaints about Colbrese and the center involved turnover, inefficiency, leadership and a lack of respect for the staff.

She said they brought their complaints to Hahn, hoping he would help.

Hahn tried to give the list to the board, but was told the correct grievance procedure was to give it to a supervisor, which meant Colbrese, Bernabei said.

When he gave the complaints to her, she fired him, Bernabei said.

Hahn sent the board a grievance letter over the firing Tuesday, then got his final termination notice from the board on Thursday, she said.

Bernabei said Hahn could try to win back his job through legal proceedings, but is more focused now on trying to establish a medical practice.




The following is a statement issued Friday by Dr. Matthew Hahn regarding his firing from the Tri-State Community Health Center.

This public statement is made in response to the large number of inquiries from my patients, the community, and the press.

My contract with Tri-State Community Health Center was terminated following my attempts to assist a large number of Tri-State's employees to bring significant workplace problems to light. I offered assistance out of concern for the health center, and in an effort to make it a better, stronger organization. The Tri-State Board of Directors and administration have blatantly ignored these concerns.

My record as a physician has not been questioned, and in no way led to my termination. I have dedicated the last eight years and countless hours of community service to the Tri-State community.

I am proud of my record at Tri-State Community Health Center, and the accomplishments and care delivered by Tri-State's staff.

I greatly appreciate the overwhelming show of support from patients, colleagues, and the community. My family and I will remain in the Tri-State area, and I will continue to take care of patients in this region.

-- Matthew Hahn, M.D.

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