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Feds need to investigate Tri-State doc's dismissal

May 30, 2008

In 2000, just two months after Dr. Matthew Hahn was hired at Tri-State Community Health Center in Hancock,he saved lives with a method not taught in any medical school.

A distraught man carrying a shotgun came to the center, asking for a pill that would allow him to commit suicide. The receptionist called Hahn, who was able to persuade the man to allow staff and patients to leave the building.

Some doctors might have taken that as an omen and looked for a new place to practice medicine.

Instead, Dr. Hahn embraced the community, preaching the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and doing what most physicians today never do - making house calls.

All of that earned him the honor of being named a finalist for 2008 Family Physician of the Year, an award given by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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What it apparently didn't earn him was the loyalty of the health center's executive director and its governing board.

Earlier this month, Hahn was given 90 days' notice, after which, he was told, his services would no longer be needed.

And what was his sin?

Apparently, he helped Tri-State staff members submit a grievance against Leslie Colbrese, the center's executive director.

Hahn wouldn't elaborate, but his attorney, Lynne Bernabei of the Washington, D.C., firm Bernabei & Wachtel, said the employees' complaints about Colbrese and the health center involved turnover, inefficiency, leadership and a lack of respect for the staff.

Given Hahn's record - in 2007 he was named Maryland's Outstanding Rural Health Practitioner - it's tough to believe that he would have encouraged employees to file grievances over trivial matters.

That Colbrese's first reaction to Hahn's involvement was to fire a doctor who, by many accounts was a caring and dedicated physician, is ridiculous. And worse, Colbrese's decision has created much anxiety among Hahn's patients, which his 2007 award citation said include many elderly and chronic-disease patients.

For their sake, we believe that the federal government, which provides funding for the center, should look into what happened.

The patients and the community that this health center serves deserve a better explanation than they've gotten so far for why this jewel of a physician has to leave.

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