Be sure to ask for permission before penning a book while mentioning the name of your employer. Dr. Steven Weiss, who specializes in internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic’s Eau Claire location in Wisconsin, says he was ousted after writing a book about how our country changed during 2020. The health network says Weiss didn’t comply with the company’s policies, but Weiss says he was just trying to record his experiences during the pandemic.
Weiss started writing his book, Carnage in America: Covid-19, Racial Injustice, and the Demise of Donald Trump, in March 2020 because he “thought it was important to have some kind of a record of what happened in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, from a person who was on the front lines.”
His son helped him turn his journal entries into a blog, and he started racking up subscribers. He found himself spending hours writing and researching when he wasn’t at work.
Some of the entries mentioned patients, but he always changed their names and any other identifying factors for privacy reasons.
It includes his thoughts and fears while caring for COVID-19 patients during the brutal fall and winter surges of last year, when much of the Midwest was still on lockdown.
The problem is that he lists himself as a provider at Mayo Clinic, the company says it wasn’t aware of Weiss’s book until it was published, and Weiss violated provider policies by publishing it.
Dr. Richard Helmers, Mayo Clinic’s Regional Vice President of Northwest Wisconsin, said in a statement that the Mayo Clinic has a “progressive disciplinary process” and “termination of employment is the last step in that process.”
Weiss received an official notice of termination last month and was told his contract was ending. He is on paid leave until September 13th, “after which his contract will end for reasons beyond the publication of a book,” said Helmers.
The Writing on the Wall
The personnel committee that decided to fire Weiss “identified concerns about unauthorized use of confidential business information, self-identification as a Mayo employee without appropriate approval, inappropriate use of patient identifiers, and derogatory and unprofessional commentary placing Mayo in a negative light.”
At least three warnings had been issued to Weiss over the last eight years. None of those complaints cited standard of care concerns, but Weiss seems to have a history of stretching the rules.
In 2013, a female patient issued a complaint against Weiss for letting a male student stay in the room while he examined her. He got hit with another complaint in 2016 after he allegedly inquired about the possibility of dating one of his patient’s relatives.
A third warning came after a patient complained about an article Weiss wrote for a local newspaper. “The patient believed you were speaking as a Mayo representative on issues that a non-partisan organization should not be taking a political position on,” the letter said.
Weiss says his writing “reflects quite well” on Mayo Clinic; however, he did mention that the facility restricted the use of N95 respirators in the early days of the pandemic, but that was true of many healthcare facilities at the time.
He’s also been an outspoken critic of former President Trump, which goes against Mayo Clinic’s policies regarding political speech.
Weiss openly condemned the company’s decision to let former Vice President Mike Pence tour the facility in April 2020 without a face mask. “It was a perfect opportunity to force him to wear a mask,” Weiss said. “But they didn’t do it.”
Although the letter mentions previous complaints, Weiss believes he was mainly fired for mentioning the clinic by name in his book.
He says his firing has had a “chilling” effect. “We need to have accurate information to be able to function well as a society,” Weiss said. “Cancel culture is unfortunate, regardless of which side is employing it against the other.”
However, the clinic maintains it is a non-profit organization with no political affiliations.
“Patients can be reassured that care they receive is not impacted by political views,” Helmers said. “Mayo Clinic Health System does not make personnel decisions or take employment action against employees because of their political beliefs.”
Even if Mayo is justified in giving Weiss the boot, his patients are sad to see him go.
James Ryder, who served as the director of the Eau Claire health department from 1986 to 2006, and his wife, Mary, have been seeing Weiss for years.
“When you have a doctor for 20-some years, he’s like your family,” said Mary Ryder. “He’s a wonderful doctor. It’s a sad thing for all of us.”