Detroit nurse claims hospital barred African American staff from caring for white child

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An African American nurse is suing Hurley Medical Center for allegedly not allowing her to care for a white baby.

Tonya Battle, who worked for Hurley Medical Center for almost 25 years, said a baby was placed in her hospital's neonatal intensive care unit on Oct. 31, 2012.

"I introduced myself to (the father). 'Hi, I'm Tonya and I'm taking care of your baby. Can I see your (identification) band?' " Battle explained to the Detroit Free Press. "And he said in return, 'And I need to see your supervisor.' "

A charge nurse later told Battle that the child's father allegedly rolled up his shirt revealing a swastika tattoo, the Detroit Free Press said. He then requested that no African American nurses care for his child. The nurse then passed the message to their supervisor.

"I felt like I froze," Battle said. "I just was really dumbfounded. I couldn't believe that's why he was so angry (and) that's why he was requesting my charge nurse. I think my mouth hit the floor. It was really disbelief."

Battle was taken off the infant's case, and a note saying "No African American nurse to take care of baby" was written on the baby's chart, according to Michigan Live. Battle claims the decision was made official by the hospital on Nov. 1, 2012. She added that despite the fact that a hospital attorney said the request couldn't be granted, the hospital enforced the rule for about one month.

A University of Michigan 2007 survey revealed that one in three doctors believed that patients thought they got better care if their doctor matched their race, the Detroit Free Press reported. It also showed that people's requests for specific doctors usually were granted if the request came from a woman, a non-white person or a Muslim.

Lance Gable, an associate professor of health law at the Wayne State University Law School, added to the paper that patients have the right to select their doctor. For example, if a woman wanted a female gynecologist, most facilities would oblige. However, requesting a different race becomes a matter of discrimination. He believed that the father had a choice as to which hospital treated his child but not to which employees took care of the kid.

"The bottom line is that the law is not clear about this, although I suspect the nurse will have a pretty strong case," Gable said.

Protesters gathered outside Hurley Medical Center on Feb. 19 to protest the hospital's alleged actions.

"Certainly we are here today in the case of where there was a nurse who was told she was not capable, and all the black nurses in the area told they should not service a white baby," Rev. Charles E. Williams II, president of National Action Network said according to Michigan Live. "This is an atrocity and a reversal of times."

Hurley CEO Melany Gavulic denied that the hospital had ever instructed that African American nurses should not care for one of their patients. She confirmed that the request was made, but said the hospital did not grant it.

"We (Hurley) value the support of the patients who entrust us with their care and the dedication of our physicians and staff," she said. "This includes nurse Battle and her quarter century of professionalism and dedication."

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