New Mexico hospital's COVID-19 screening unfair to Native American women, clinicians say

Clinicians have accused Albuquerque, N.M.-based Lovelace Women's Hospital of racial profiling, saying a policy designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is unfairly targeting Native American women, according to an investigative report from ProPublica and New Mexico In Depth.

ProPublica interviewed several clinicians from the hospital who wished to remain anonymous. The sources said the policy encouraged clinicians to conduct COVID-19 screenings for pregnant women who appeared to be Native American, regardless of whether they had symptoms or risk factors for contracting the virus.

Employees would cross-reference the women's ZIP code with a list of ZIP codes for Native American reservations in New Mexico, which have some of the state's highest per capita COVID-19 infection rates. Women who had ZIP codes on the list were deemed a "person under investigation" for COVID-19. In at least six different instances, the hospital also separated asymptomatic women from their newborns while waiting for COVID-19 test results to come back, the clinicians said.

"I believe this policy is racial profiling," one clinician told ProPublica and New Mexico In Depth. "We seem to be applying a standard to Native Americans that isn't applied to everybody else. We seem to be specifically picking out patients from Native communities as at risk whether or not there are outbreaks at their specific pueblo or reservation."

Whitney Marquez, a spokesperson for Lovelace, confirmed that the hospital does screen patients by geography.

"Part of our screening process includes identifying and testing patients who reside in high-risk areas, such as nursing homes and regional hot spots of COVID-19 cases, as recommended” by the CDC, Ms. Marquez wrote in a May 21 email to ProPublica and New Mexico In Depth.

She did not confirm or deny the existence of the ZIP code policy described by the clinicians.

To view the full report, click here.


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