Racism: Nigerian-American Doctor Sues Atlanta Hospital

Dr. Dare Adewumi, a 39-year-old Nigerian-American doctor, filed a federal lawsuit in September alleging race discrimination at Wellstar Medical Group and Wellstar Health Systems in Atlanta, Georgia. According to AP, this is his narrative.

When the Nigerian-American doctor was hired to manage the neurosurgery practice at an Atlanta-area hospital near where he grew up, he was overjoyed.

However, he claims he was quickly subjected to racial prejudice, which led to his dismissal and has stopped him from finding stable employment elsewhere.

His lawyers and other supporters said he’s not alone, and that Black doctors across the country face discrimination ranging from minor annoyances to career-ending disciplinary measures.

Adewumi joined Wellstar Cobb Hospital in Austell, Georgia, in March 2018 to manage neurosurgical services. Patients were directed to Wellstar Kennestone Facility, where Adewumi’s supervisor worked because the hospital had been without a neurosurgeon for a decade.

Adewumi believed his boss was targeting him as his practice grew, “with the goal of diminishing my competency as a physician and driving me out of the group,” according to the EEOC complaint.

Adewumi began getting “letters of inquiry” concerning procedures he’d performed in November 2018. Any member of the medical staff can submit these anonymous letters, or they can be triggered by a patient complaint. The medical executive committee of the hospital examines them.

Adewumi admitted that he had no idea what the letters were at first because he had never received anything comparable. Within eight months, he had received 15, all but one of which had been submitted by coworkers.

According to the EEOC complaint, independent assessments ordered by the hospital and Adewumi’s lawyers found that the issues originated from differences of opinion regarding the approach or surgical technique, rather than patient care standards or safety.

Adewumi, on the other hand, claimed he knows of at least two situations where white colleagues conducted unneeded procedures or left a patient scarred. He doesn’t believe they were questioned or disciplined in any manner.

After failing to repair his connection with his boss, Adewumi said he went up the chain to express his worries, and a hospital system executive advised he retire. Adewumi was taken aback by the suggestion and refused to go.

After that, Wellstar suggested an “action plan.” He was told that it wasn’t meant to be a punishment, but that it would help him “better integrate” into the main group of neurosurgeons at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital.

Some of Adewumi’s surgical judgments were questioned, and he was put on a performance review plan, which he claims was a pretext to get him fired. He said he had a spotless record and that his white colleagues were not subjected to the same scrutiny.

“I’ve worked so hard, done so much to get to this level, and all I really wanted to do was help sick people,” he said. “And here I was having this taken away from me for no reason other than my skin colour.”

In September, Adewumi, 39, filed a federal complaint against Wellstar Medical Group and Wellstar Health Systems, alleging race discrimination in the workplace.

Wellstar’s attorney, William Hill, said the case is sealed, so he can’t comment on specifics.

“Wellstar is a non-discriminatory company. Dr. Adewumi has never faced discrimination or been treated unfairly. Wellstar’s primary priorities are patient care and safety, according to Hill, who also stated that they had filed a petition to dismiss the complaint.

Dr. Stella Safo, an HIV specialist, is one of a group of former and current workers at Mount Sinai’s Arnhold Institute for Global Health who sued in April 2019 citing sex, age, and race discrimination. Some claims have been rejected, but others are still being pursued. Safo’s arguments center on claimed gender discrimination, but she contends that race and gender discrimination are inextricably linked as a Black woman. She’s heard from a lot of others with similar stories since filing the case.

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“It’s what many of us have gone through directly,” Adewumi said of Adewumi’s allegations.

Safo described speaking out as “awful,” adding that she endangered her career and lost friendships as a result.

Changes, on the other hand, have made her feel vindicated: Last year, the New York City Council passed legislation to establish an advisory group to investigate racial and gender discrimination at hospitals.

Several Black doctors in Georgia and elsewhere who spoke to The Associated Press said the hierarchy and competition in hospitals, where surgeons are evaluated and compensated based on productivity, can lead to people being targeted if they aren’t liked or are perceived as professional threats. Racial bias can compound that, they said.

Adewumi suspects that’s what happened to him. Before arriving at Wellstar, he’d done two fellowships on spine and brain tumours, learning difficult techniques that others within the neurosurgery group couldn’t do. Additionally, his presence at Wellstar Cobb meant lucrative surgeries were no longer being referred to his colleagues at Wellstar Kennestone.

During an action plan check-in meeting in August 2019, medical executive committee leaders applauded Adewumi’s progress. Two months later, on Oct. 8, he was fired “not for cause.” He was assured he’d done “nothing wrong,” that he was being dismissed because “certain relationships were not fostered.”

His termination was effective at the end of a 180-day notice period, in April 2020, but he wasn’t required or allowed to work at the hospital in the meantime. That meant he couldn’t fulfill a six-week “mentorship” requirement, leaving his action plan incomplete.

In March 2020, as the coronavirus began to strain hospitals, he emailed Wellstar administrators offering to come back temporarily in any capacity to help. He figured the hospital could use extra hands, and it could allow him to complete his action plan and resolve his situation without suing. But Wellstar refused.

With his action plan incomplete, the hospital refused to give him a “letter of good standing,” leaving him unable to find a hospital that will credential him, meaning he can’t work as a neurosurgeon.

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“They have cornered him and locked him out, effectively,” Hoffler said. “You don’t do this by happenstance, by mistake. This is intentional and deliberate and that is why we have a lawsuit pending.”

Too many of us are worried about retaliation, what happens when you say something,” said Dr. Rachel Villanueva, president of the National Medical Association, which represents Black doctors. “We have scores of doctors that are sending us letters about these same discriminatory practices all the time and seeking our help as an association in fighting that.”

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, Black doctors made up just 5% of active physicians in the U.S. in 2018, the most recent data available. People who identify as Black alone represent 12.4% of the total U.S. population, according to the 2020 U.S. census. For the 2021-2022 academic year, 8.1% of students enrolled in medical schools identified as Black alone. The medical school association and the National Medical Association in 2020 announced an initiative to address the scarcity of Black men in medicine — they made up only 2.9% of 2019-2020 enrolled students.

The American Medical Association, the country’s largest, most influential doctors’ group, is also trying to attract Black students to medicine, working with historically Black colleges and universities and helping secure scholarships, president Dr. Gerald Harmon said.

“We’re trying to put our money where our mouth is on this and our actions where our thoughts are,” he said, acknowledging that, among other things, a shortage of Black physicians contributes to poorer health outcomes for Black patients.

Some Black doctors who believe they’ve been mistreated are speaking out.

“If they don’t like him, that’s one thing, but you can’t penalize someone — according to the law — based on race,” his lawyer C.K. Hoffler said. “And that’s the exact thing that happened to Dare. And that’s what many, many highly skilled, highly trained, highly credentialed African American doctors are experiencing in this country.”

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