Sharpton Rep Weighs In on Flint Hospital Discrimination Case
“I just was really dumbfounded.” Those were nurse Tonya Battle’s words when learning she couldn’t care for a white baby at Hurley Medical Center’s neonatal unit in Flint, Michigan. Battle, a black, 25-year veteran registered nurse, discovered a note on the assignment clipboard that read “no African American nurse to take care of baby.” Battle filed a lawsuit against the Flint teaching hospital for discrimination. The Detroit Free Press reports that a representative of Rev. Al Sharpton is speaking up for Battle.
Hurley Medical Center Situation
On October 31, Battle, 49, was tending to an infant when a man walked in and reached for the baby. Battle identified herself and requested to see the man’s parent identification bracelet. According to Hurley’s NICU guidelines, such identification is required of parents and visitors to protect at-risk infants and family privacy. Birthing units typically require parents to match ID bands with their baby. In response to Battle’s request, however, the man demanded to see the supervisor, says the Detroit Free Press. Battle’s charge nurse reported that the man rolled up his sleeve to reveal what looked like a swastika. A lawsuit filed by Battle says a note was attached to the infant’s clipboard stating that African American nurses shouldn’t touch the baby. The sign later disappeared, but no black nurses were assigned to care for the child.
Legality of Barring Caregivers Based on Race
The veteran nurse’s coworkers have been sympathetic and supportive, but it’s the hospital’s response that bothered Battle. Patients may choose which hospitals to use. They may request caregivers based on gender, religious, or cultural affiliation. A Catholic can ask for services appropriate to his religious beliefs. A woman may ask to see a female OB-GYN. Hospitals may try to accommodate preferences. Patients may not dictate to the hospital nor stipulate which caregivers to disallow, particularly not based on race. Battle felt that the situation was serious enough to pursue litigation. As her attorney Julie Gafkay explained to the Detroit Free Press, it wasn’t so much that the man made the request. Prejudice is unavoidable. This issue is that Battle’s “employer of 25 years granted [the request].” Battle is seeking damages for humiliation, emotional stress, mental anguish, and damage to her reputation.
The Rev. Charles Williams II, president of Sharpton’s N.A.N. (National Action Network) Michigan chapter, spoke out against Hurley’s treatment of Battle. At a press conference on February 19, Williams called for three responsive actions: public funds withheld from Hurley until the staff has undergone sensitivity training, settlement with Battle, and confirmation of hospital disciplinary action against staff involved.
A native of Michigan, Marlisa Sachteleben writes about people, places, events, and issues in and around her state’s most pivotal city of Detroit.