Nurses sue after father demands white-only care for his newborn

Hurley Medical Center is facing two federal lawsuits from nurses claiming the hospital banned African-American nurses from caring for a newborn infant at the demand of the baby's swastika-tattooed father, the Associated Press reported.

The American Medical Association's ethics code "bars doctors from refusing to treat people based on race, gender and other criteria," the AP noted, "but there are no specific policies for handling race-based requests from patients."

"In general, I don't think honoring prejudicial preferences ... is morally justifiable" for a healthcare organization, Susan Goold, M.D., a University of Michigan professor, told the AP. "That said, you can't cure bigotry. There may be times when grudgingly acceding to a patient's strongly held preferences is morally OK."

Patients who have been traumatized, by rape or combat, for example, may be aggravated by the presence of a caregiver who reminds them of the trauma, Goold said. Accommodating them may be more helpful in their healing process than forcing a certain type of caregiver on them, she noted.

That doesn't appear to have been the case in the alleged Michigan incident.

The man approached African-American nurse Tonya Battle while she was caring for his child in the neonatal intensive care unit and asked to speak to her supervisor, CNN reported. He allegedly showed the supervisor his swastika tattoo and said he didn't want African-Americans caring for his baby.

A note reading "No African-American nurse to take care of baby" was subsequently posted on an assignment clipboard at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Mich., although it was removed at the insistence of the hospital's lawyer, CNN noted. 

Battle now is one of two nurses suing the hospital in federal court.

Hurley President Melany Guvalic is denying the nurses' claims, saying the father's request eventually was denied. The swastika tattoo indeed created "anger and outrage" among the staffers, Guvalic said, according to the AP.

The Michigan case comes on the heels of a 2010 decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals holding that the federal Civil Rights Act prohibits nursing homes from staffing nursing assistants based on residents' racial preferences, after a black nursing assistant sued her employer for racial discrimination, the AP noted.

Past cases of racial discrimination in the healthcare sector include a lawsuit by an African-American woman who claimed Humana diminished her role and responsibilities after two company reorganizations.

To learn more:
- read the Associated Press report
- read the CNN article

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