Before Scott Russi was fired by the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center, he worked as a trauma surgeon at the Peace Health Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield.
Nurses who worked with him at Sacred Heart said Russi was one of the best surgeons they ever worked with and an all-around great guy. Many described him as compassionate and matter-of-fact, a man of honesty and integrity, and an advocate for good patient care. The nurses were stunned to learn he had lost his job caring for veterans. So was the father of a stabbing victim, who said his son was saved by Russi.
Russi said he was fired from the VA’s Eugene clinic, which is operated by the Roseburg VA, in August because he was a whistle-blower who stood up to Dinesh Ranjan, the VA’s chief of surgery. Russi’s case became the centerpiece of Rep. Peter DeFazio’s testimony in Congress last week supporting new whistle-blower protections. The VA has declined to comment on Russi’s case, saying it cannot discuss personnel issues.
Jana Sullivan, a surgical nurse at RiverBend, said when the nurses she works with found out what had happened to Russi, they wanted to take torches to Washington, D.C., and rally for him. Sullivan has been a surgical nurse for more than 20 years, and worked with Russi from 2013, when he joined Sacred Heart, until this year, when he started at the VA.
Russi had served 29 years active duty in the U.S. Air Force, and was deployed four times as a combat surgeon and once as a hospital commander.
You could tell, Sullivan said, that he “had that extra something.”
“He was a breath of fresh air to all of us. We all just love him, and no one can believe this. We’re all just stunned,” she said.
The VA not only fired Russi, but threatened to report him to a national practitioner database. If he’s put on that database, he could be unable to obtain insurance, meaning no hospital would hire him, Sullivan said.
“For Dr. Russi to stop practicing surgery is criminal, because he’s saved so many lives,” she said.
One of the lives he saved is Connor Hoag’s. Gary Hoag contacted The News-Review after reading our story about Russi’s firing, and told us he believes his son would be dead today had Russi not been at Sacred Heart the night Connor was brought in with four stab wounds.
Connor Hoag, who was 19 at the time, was injured Sept. 30, 2015. According to The Register-Guard, police said he had climbed onto the roof of a home and was trying to steal a marijuana plant. He was with a group of friends at the time and was making “some poor choices,” his dad said. The homeowner, who was later charged in the stabbing, attacked the teen with a knife. Connor Hoag’s lung was punctured and collapsed, his spleen damaged, his stomach was knifed, and all its contents were oozing out into his internal cavities, Gary Hoag said.
“It was really, really bad,” he said. Connor Hoag’s friends dropped him at the Sacred Heart emergency room and ran away. He had no ID on him, and his dad didn’t find out where he was until the following morning. But, he said his son was in good hands. And that didn’t change even when three of the Umpqua Community College shooting victims were brought into the hospital the next day. Russi gave a news conference about the young woman, Julie Woodworth, who suffered multiple gunshot wounds and a brain injury. Two days after the shooting, the young stabbing victim under his care had a second surgery to handle the ongoing problems with stomach acids that had leaked into his body.
“Never at any time did we feel that Connor was getting second fiddle,” Gary Hoag said. “He had great care.”
Gary Hoag said it’s a “travesty” that veterans won’t be able to receive care from Russi anymore. He said it sounds to him like Russi stood up to a bully and lost his job. He doesn’t think that’s right.
“I’m devastated for him. He’s a very good man, and this should not be happening to him,” he said.
Connor Hoag told The News-Review he’s doing well. He described the doctor who saved him as sincere, calm, honest and decisive.
Today, Connor Hoag said he’s able to do everything he wants to do, including work out every day.
“Every day as I get older, I realize more and more the miracle that he performed on me in a sense,” he said.
Connor Hoag says he’s changed as a result of his experience. He was interested in computer programming before, but now hopes to become a paramedic and firefighter. He wants to help people, because he was helped.
“I guess in a sense Dr. Russi indirectly helped me find that within myself,” he said.
Deborah Evenson recently retired as a surgical nurse at Sacred Heart. She remembered another young person saved by Russi, a girl who had been shot multiple times in Roseburg while escaping a man she was with.
“Dr. Russi and I took her off the helicopter on top of the hospital and took her into surgery and he saved her life. She had so many holes in her it was unreal,” she said.
Evenson’s husband is a veteran, and she had felt good thinking if he needed surgery he might be treated by Russi at the VA. She said Russi is an “excellent surgeon” and “just an all-around straight arrow guy.”
“They will never have good doctors if they treat good doctors the way they treated Dr. Russi,” she said. “To have an excellent surgeon get treated this way is shocking. ... Good doctors are really hard to find, especially at the VA. They have a horrible reputation.”
It’s not just Russi that loses out because this happened, she said. It’s the veterans too.
Mary Peery, a surgical nurse at Sacred heart, said she was “flabbergasted” this happened to Russi.
“He is probably one of the best surgeons I have ever worked with, and I have worked in many states and many different facilities,” she said.
Jeneen Walter-Robillard, a surgical technician at Sacred Heart, has worked at VA hospitals in Portland and Palo Alto, so she said she’s not as surprised by what happened to Russi. She said this incident helped confirm her belief that the VA doesn’t do what’s in the best interest of its patients. If Russi’s career is over, she said, “it’s going to be a huge loss to the community.”
She said Russi is a person who will insist on doing what’s best for the patient, whether or not it’s easy.
“I don’t question his ability or his integrity at all. I would send my family members to him,” she said.