Black Physicians Falling Prey to Large, Profit-driven Health Care Companies

by October 2, 2009

DETROIT (NNPA) — Ending disparity in health care is one aspect of President Obama’s reform mission. Increasingly, the battle for equality is also being waged in area hospitals by black physicians who are falling prey to large, profit-driven health care systems.

“It’s a new type of discrimination, more specific to the hospital environment.  It’s not ethical, it’s not legal, and it has nothing to do with good medicine.”

As the only black, female surgeon at St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia, Dr. LaCesha Brintley practiced medicine for almost two years until she was summarily suspended in October 2008. Brintley believes her race and gender played in her dismissal. After reviewing her case, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) agreed and sent Brintley a Notice of Right to Sue, clearing the way for a legal challenge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Dr. Brintley was granted full medical and surgical staff privileges at St. Mary Mercy in October 2006. She performed numerous surgical procedures at the facility with no deaths, disabilities or lawsuits up until the time she was dismissed.

“It is my belief that the hospital has discriminated against me,” Brintley said during a recent interview. “They lied about surgical care I provided to patients, they coerced people to act against me — they purposefully acted to remove me from hospital staff.”

Dr. Brintley is a product of Highland Park High School, an honors graduate of Howard University and a graduate of the University of Michigan, School of Medicine. She earned her General Surgery Board Certification in 2005.

Despite her accreditation and record, Dr. William Jackson, a board member on the Detroit Medical Society, says that Brintley is one of many area doctors who have been subjected to removal procedures based on their unwillingness to play by corporation rules: Maximize profits first and patient care second.

“Hospital administrators are using their power to dismiss doctors that are out of favor,” Jackson told the Michigan Citizen. “A lot of people have given up.”

Dr. Jackson, who has practiced at Sinai Detroit with the DMC since 1991, says it’s a nationwide problem disproportionately affecting minority doctors and, consequently, minority patients.

“It’s a new type of discrimination, more specific to the hospital environment,” Dr. Jackson continues. “It’s not ethical, it’s not legal, and it has nothing to do with good medicine.”

Dr. Lonnie Joe Jr. is the current president of the Detroit Medical Society (DMS). It acts as the local affiliate for the National Medical Association, which was established in 1916 to “advance the art and science of medicine for people of African descent.”

“In those days, African-Americans were not allowed in the American Medical Association,” Dr. Joe says. As advocates for patient care and physician concerns, the DMS has seen a large increase in complaints over the last several years. According to Dr. Joe, complaints over the last eight years have tripled.

The DMS, along with the Detroit Branch NAACP, the Council of Baptist Pastors and various physicians and surgeons, have joined Dr. Brintley in her efforts to address grievances against St. Mary Mercy.

“The administration has sided with other physicians who are filling the beds and keeping the big machine going,” Joe says, referring to St. Mary Mercy, which operates under the St. Joseph Mercy Health System and its parent company, the Trinity Health Network. “It would be different if Dr. Brintley was an incompetent MD, but it is just the opposite.”

Joe attributes pressures put on some doctors to hospital procedures which incentivize treating patients that are more profitable.

Dr. Brintley says that hospitals and doctors in large health care systems stand to make more money by treating patients with private insurance; keeping the beds full; and ordering additional procedures and tests. *

On the very day Dr. Brintley was suspended from St. Mary’s Mercy, she had operated with Chief of Surgery, Dr. Gilbert Roe, who Brintley says gave her favorable remarks about her performance.

“When we look at the accusations against her, they couldn’t be more petty, condescending and one hundred percent wrong,” Dr. Joe says.

At this time, The Michigan Citizen is awaiting a reply from the Director of Public Relations at St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia.

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