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How should hospitals deal with bigoted patients?

On Behalf of | Oct 18, 2022 | Employees' Rights |

There was a time in our country when white doctors (who made up the vast majority of the profession) could turn away patients simply because they were of another race or ethnicity. Today, our hospitals are filled with doctors, nurses and other medical professionals of all races, nationalities and a variety of traits.

Unfortunately, discrimination is still very much with us. Hospitals and other medical facilities still have to deal with patients (typically white) who refuse to allow a doctor or nurse of another race to care for them. If they do treat these patients, they sometimes have to deal with that patient’s racist diatribes while doing their job.

Medical facilities have been slow to address the problem

To make matters worse, others in a position to speak out, including attending physicians, sometimes stand by silently while patients insult fellow doctors or other hospital employees because they don’t know what else to do. An article in the AMA Journal of Ethics several years ago addressing this issue noted, “That racism exists in health care settings should surprise no one….What is surprising is just how little racism is formally addressed in medicine.”

Hospitals and other health care providers need to implement policies that address how to deal with such behavior. It’s more complicated than a place of business asking a customer who insults an employee to leave. They have an obligation to care for patients who need treatment. If a patient refuses to be treated by someone of another race (or other characteristics), they typically can’t be required to leave.

Those in authority need to step up

Nonetheless, hospitals need to encourage all people in positions of authority not to ignore discriminatory words and actions by patients and families. No matter how uncomfortable it might make them when they ignore or minimize it, they make their colleagues feel like they aren’t supported, respected or appreciated.

This can create a hostile work environment. It can also limit the amount of experience that young doctors and other health care providers are able to acquire if they’re often removed from a case because of a patient’s prejudices.

If you’re dealing with this issue, and you haven’t been able to resolve it with your employer, it’s wise to find out what kind of legal options you have.



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