Was it a Safety Issue or Outright Discrimination?

Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan, is in the middle of a firestorm of criticism over the reaction to a white man with a swastika tattoo who insisted black nurses not be allowed to touch his newborn. Hospital officials indicated they did not want to put the nurse in harm’s way once the request was made, but what harm was ultimately done?

Two lawsuits followed the incident: one was settled and one is pending. Tonya Battle, a nurse at Flint's Hurley Medical Center, filed the first complaint against the hospital and a nursing manager. She alleged that a note was posted on an assignment clipboard that read, “No African-American nurse to take care of baby.”
 
The federal lawsuit was quickly settled. The hospital paid $200,000 to settle the suit, MLive-Flint Journal reported.

Battle and the hospital quickly released a statement. When Minority Nurse requested an interview, the joint statement was released. The parties were “happy to report” they amicably resolved this matter according to the statement, which did not report the financial settlement.

“This situation in the NICU was triggered by conduct, which is not consistent with Hurley’s policies. We regret that our policies were not well enough understood and followed causing the perception that Hurley condoned this conduct,” Melany Gavulic, RN, MBA, President and CEO of Hurley Medical Center, noted in the written statement. “We thank Tonya Battle, Lakisha Bah Stewart and Latoya Butler for bringing this situation to light.

“Hurley Medical Center is fundamentally opposed to any form of racial discrimination. As previously reported, we will use the circumstances of this issue in future training sessions to ensure that employees are prepared to appropriately handle situations like this. Hurley is proud to be the safety net provider for this community for over 105 years. We value the support of the patients who entrust us with their care and the dedication of our physicians and staff. This includes Nurse Tonya Battle and her 25 years of professionalism and dedication. We are eager to move forward as a stronger, more unified facility.”

But before the hospital can move forward it has to deal with a suit filed by nurse Carlotta Armstrong, who is being represented by civil rights attorney Tom Pabst. The second suit was filed in late February.

“Whenever you have a major hospital instructing black nurses to keep their hands off this white baby, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that is wrong. That is like we are living in 1813 instead of 2013. I am still in disbelief. I have been practicing 35 years and that is just wrong, any way you look at it,” Pabst told Minority Nurse.

A patient can make any request they want, but “the real rub here is that the hospital agreed to it,” Pabst noted. “The hospital controls the workplace, not some white swastika-tattooed guy. It is indefensible.”

Minority Nurse requested a second interview with the hospital officials and again received a written statement. “While I cannot comment on the suit and answer questions, I can share some insights,” Gavulic said in the written media release.

“The issue was triggered by a father of a baby who demanded that no African American nurse be involved in his baby’s care. Upon making his demand, he then showed Nurse Battle’s supervisor his swastika tattoo, which created anger and outrage in our staff.  This resulted in concern by supervisors for the safety of the staff.  For these reasons, the request was initially evaluated; however, the father was informed that his request could not be granted.”

Gavulic noted that Hurley Medical Center has had a rich history and reputation of supporting and valuing diversity and remains committed to its policy of nondiscrimination. “As a premier academic medical center, Hurley strives to continuously provide education to our staff,” the statement said. “We appreciate the community’s concern and involvement, as we publicly clarify the facts of this case.”

In an interesting twist, Armstrong’s attorney reported his children were born in the hospital.   “Both of my sons—one of them is 35 and the other one is 31—they were both born there. I took them there specifically because it is a great neonatal unit,” Pabst noted. “If the mom who is having the baby is having any trouble with that baby, you want to be at the Hurley neonatal unit. Everybody knows it is a great facility.”

But that is where Pabst’s praise ended. “How this white supremacist—or whatever he is—can go there and think he can just demand a white nurse, and to compound it, why the hospital would go along with that is just beyond me,” Pabst said. “I can’t even fathom what happened here. It is just beyond belief. If you would have told me a couple of months ago that is what happened, I would have said, ‘No way, not at Hurley.’”

“There is a mindset here that needs to change, I think, and I just don’t think just because they pass laws that the battle is over. Obviously it is not. Look at what happened here,” Pabst said. “These people were discriminated against. That is not what my country stands for.”

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