Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue is in talks with his lawyer and plans to negotiate with St. John’s Health after he returns from a family trip to Italy.
For the past year, Blue worked for the Jackson hospital as a contracted physician. Last Friday, Oct. 8, he said he was called by his supervisor, director of physician services Jim Berrett, who reportedly told Blue he couldn’t continue using his personal computer at the hospital.
There is no policy barring hospital contractors from using their personal computers, St. John’s chief communications officer Karen Connelly told the Jackson Hole Daily. She declined to comment further on the matter.
Blue said he tried to reason with Berrett, but was unsuccessful.
The next day, he emailed St. John’s interim CEO David Robertson to formally announce the termination of his contract, effective Feb. 10, 2022, to comply with the 120-day required notice.
Blue then listed reasons he should be allowed to have his personal computer, including that he has used that device at the hospital for the entire 13 months he had been contracted by St. John’s.
He also said he had used his computer to submit patients’ FAA physical exams and to perform telehealth visits.
“I was given a verbal guarantee by previous CEO Dr. Paul Beaupre that my contractual agreement with SJH would not interfere with my duties as Teton County Coroner,” he wrote in the email.
In his response the next day, Robertson copied Berrett, the hospital’s physician services administrator; board chair Sue Critzer; CFO John Kren; medical doctors Martin Trott and Jim Little Jr.; and Crowley Fleck Law attorney Nick Healey.
Robertson did not respond to Blue’s concerns, but acknowledged the notice of termination. He also reminded Blue that his non-disparagement, confidentiality and non-compete agreements would continue to be legally binding after Feb. 10.
Two days after Robertson’s Sunday reply, Blue held a press conference to explain the results of Gabrielle Petito’s autopsy, one of the nation’s most high-profile homicide cases.
Then on Thursday evening, Blue announced his departure from St. John’s in a public Facebook post, explaining the personal computer situation and his contractual requirement not to disparage the hospital.
In a follow-up interview with the Daily, Blue said he had no intentions of leaving St. John’s prior to the call with Berrett, which he said forced the decision.
“I can’t function as county coroner unless I have computer access during the day,” he said. “It’s never interfered with the number or the quality of patients that I’ve seen. There were no complaints that said, ‘Gee, he’s doing coroner work, he’s not seeing patients.’ That was never stated.”
It’s not clear why the computer would have become an issue “all of a sudden,” as Blue put it, but it did come just four days before the hospital on Monday reopened its urgent care center in the T.J. Maxx plaza.
That center used to be owned by Blue under the name Emerg-a-Care, but he sold the 5,400-square-foot facility to St. John’s in September 2020.
The doctor moved back into the facility last week, along with another physician, and a few days before receiving the phone call from Berrett.
At the same time, Blue was working on the highly publicized Petito case, though he doesn’t believe there’s a correlation between that work and Berrett’s call.
As for why he went public with the announcement, Blue said this:
“I thought my patients had a right to know what was going on. Especially patients of mine who ... are major donors to the hospital.”
As of Friday, Blue’s Facebook post had garnered nearly 100 comments from people appreciative for his service as a physician and coroner.
Blue is expected to continue serving as the elected county coroner, which is separate from St. John’s, through the end of 2022.
He’s required by contract to work for the hospital until February, though things could soon get more contentious.
“When I get back, we’ll be in discussions with a lawyer [and] decide where to go from there,” he said. “I think that we will prevail one way or the other.”