The battle over quality patient care isn’t new, but administrative staff at a Flint, Michigan hospital may have taken that too far. Tonya Battle, an African-American nurse at Hurley Medical Center, is suing the hospital after being told that she and other black nurses were not to handle a newborn in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The child’s father, a self-proclaimed racist, made a special request that his child not be cared for by anyone who was not white. Foolishly, the hospital complied and administrative staff held a meeting to inform all nurses assigned to the unit of the news.
That request was not only rude, but illegal. The hospital’s lawyer warned the staff against following such a blatantly racist and illegal suggestion by the parents to no avail. Battle is seeking unspecified damages, and says that she was “shocked, offended and in disbelief that she was so egregiously discriminated against based on her race and re-assigned.” Since the newborn was in the NICU and required a longer stay, the order stood for over a month while the child received care.
What should the hospital staff have done in the situation? Clearly, giving in to the demands of a man who reportedly flashed a swastika tattoo to reinforce his stance on no black nurses caring for his newborn was the wrong thing to do. Had the medical staff told the man to take his child elsewhere, would they have been within their legal rights? Or would doing so place the hospital in jeopardy of a lawsuit from the child’s parents? Should they have allowed the African American nurses take care of the baby despite the request? And bottom line: it is ever okay for patients to make special demands that align more with personal preference than medical care when receiving treatment?
An example of a common special request from patients comes from the world of gynecology. As women, we have to visit the gynecologist at different points in our lives. I have girlfriends who will only see a woman gynecologist because they are not comfortable visiting a male gynecologist. Personally, I think both men and women in that profession are trained to view their job as anything but sexual. They are professionals like any of their colleagues in other medical specialties. However, many insurance companies respect the choice of some patients to only see a woman gynecologist. Is that discriminatory against the men in that profession?
Likewise, is it wrong for a person of Filipino descent to want a nurse who speaks Tagalog? Is it wrong for a native Spanish speaking to request a nurse who possess that capability?
The argument over what rights patients have when seeking medical treatment isn’t new. However, the administrative staff at Hurley Medical Center may have taken it too far when accommodating the patient’s rights. While special requests are allowed in some instances, in this case it was clearly reprehensible.
Still…what’s to separate this racist man’s requirement of ‘no black nurses’ caring for his baby from any other situation where a patient wants distinct preferences to be honored?