How hospitals should handle discriminatory patient preferences: 2 lawyers weigh in

Instances of patients having "racial preferences" for their healthcare providers are on the rise, which puts hospitals in a three-way bind between complying with nondiscrimination laws, making sure their employees are not harassed and promoting care quality, according to Bloomberg Law.

Here are four things to know:

1. Teoka Williams, RN, a nurse Dearborn, Mich.-based Beaumont Medical Center, filed a federal discrimination case Aug. 14, after her supervisor allegedly granted a patient's request to be treated by a white nurse. This case reflects the growing trend of complaints filed by healthcare staff for discrimination at the request of patients.

2. Julie Gafkay, Ms. William's attorney in Frankenmuth, Mich., specializes in employment discrimination and believes the solution to this growing trend is straightforward.

"I think [hospitals] can have a policy, and the policy can be what the law is. A patient can't request services based on race," Ms. Gafkay told Bloomberg Law.

3. Adams Agrahms, a firm partner at Los Angeles-based Epstein Becker Green, said there are three main considerations a hospital must balance:

  • Hospitals, like any employer, are obligated to comply with nondiscrimination laws
  • Hospitals are obligated to protect employees from harassment
  • Clinicians must provide care to patients who may be undesirable or hold different beliefs than them

"There is nothing wrong with a healthcare provider dealing with an alert, competent patient and requiring them to act appropriately," Mr. Abrahms told Bloomberg Law. "But it becomes more complicated if you have someone who's not mentally stable."

4. Hospitals that comply and accommodate biased patient request hurt patient care, according to Ms. Gafkay. Hospitals can also lose employees if they accommodate these types of requests, she said.

"In my opinion, what they should have done is Williams' supervisor should have gone to the patient and instructed her that she would get the best care available and that assignments were not going to be based on race," Ms. Gafkay told Bloomberg Law. "There are plenty of circumstances where patients go to the hospital and request unreasonable things and those requests are denied."

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