When African-American nurse Tonya Battle of the Hurley Medical Center (NICU) in Michigan was reassigned because a white father didn’t want her anywhere near his newborn child, she was floored. The racist father had made the request after showing the charge nurse a picture of his swastika tattoo. As it turns out, however, Battle is not alone in being discriminated against in this way.
In Battle’s 2012 case, a staff meeting ended with the hospital indulging the racist father and not allowing African-American nurses near the infant. According to Al Jazeera there was even a note posted to alert staffers: “NO AFRICAN AMERICAN NURSE TO TAKE CARE OF BABY.”
Battle later sued Hurley Medical Center for employment discrimination and settled out of court, but this sort of discrimination is far more common than most people think.
“I think it happens a lot,” Julie Gafkay, Battle’s attorney, told Al Jazeera. “I have 20 plaintiffs in the last year who have been subjected to this type of discrimination.”
Another case involved an African-American nurse who was wrongly fired because a white patient did not want any African-Americans caring for him.
In a 2012 study, Kimani Paul-Emile, a professor of law and biomedical ethics at Fordham University, wrote “patients routinely refuse or demand medical treatment based on the assigned physician’s racial identity, and hospitals typically yield to patients’ racial preferences.”
Since patients know it’s politically incorrect to be overtly racist, they often make up reasons for getting rid of their black health care providers.
“They come up with different ways to do it. I talked to this one doctor who said there are these older ladies who will say, ‘You know, I want a Jewish doctor, I just think a Jewish doctor is better,” wrote Paul-Emile.
Dr. Meghan Lane-Fall, who is African-American, says the bias impacts black doctors as well as nurses.
“Oh, you’re not just this nameless, faceless person taking care of a patient; you’re a black woman who has all these other characteristics that affect the way patients see you.”
On the other hand, black patients often seek out black health care providers. It’s not always about racism, as was the case with the man who wore the swastika, but sometimes it’s about level of comfort. Whereas the swastika wearing man was behaving as a racist, it seems that African-Americans seek health care providers of the same race in order to be protected from racism.