Ms. Gray — helping victims
While their profession faces severe personnel shortages over the next 10 years, highly-qualified Black nurses across the nation are being unfairly cut from their jobs or reduced to the status of migrant workers, forced to survive on below-livable wages or no income at all.
California, the largest state, is the most culpable of the practice of selectively recording false charges against black nurses and then terminating and blacklisting them on the basis of the false reports, a number of these nurses say. The stigmatized victims are rarely, if ever, given a fair chance to refute the charges, they say.
Black nurses face discrimination even while employed. Last year in Flint, Michigan a hospital settled a lawsuit by nurses who maintained a hospital barred Black nurses from tending to a White baby, acceding to a client’s request.
In New York State, a nursing home also had to settle similar allegations when it was found to have discriminated against Black nurses.
In Hawaii, a Black nurse who complained that hospital procedures jeopardized the health of patients, later filed a lawsuit after she said was subjected to retaliation, including the “N”-word being directed at her through a note, as well as the image of a hangman’s noose.
The real names of the nurses in this story are not used, due to anticipated retaliation and further blacklisting.
Nurse Mary H tells of accidentally brushing against a White patient she was tending for a home care facility in Phoenix. The patient accused Mary H. of making lesbian sexual overtures towards her. The police were called and the ensuing investigation cleared Mary H. She fears, however, that the incident was included in her files to discredit her. She has since been terminated from the agency she was working out of, she says.
Mary H. says that after four years of fighting off the DNR plague — Do Not Rehire–her earnings have been reduced from $53 an hour to about $15 as the agencies send her from one site to another over vast distances. Her fellow nurses have suffered equivalent cuts in their income, she says.
Nurse Kellie T., reports that she was harassed and given a negative report at a well-known facility in the Los Angeles area in her ninth month of pregnancy nearly 15 years ago. She is still barred from working at that hospital. In recent years, she has found work to be sporadic, and sometimes being homeless with her child, she has depended upon women’s shelters and her family to survive.
Nurse Fatima J., who has 30 years of experience, took time off her job in September to handle some pressing family business in another state. She was terminated from her job upon her return, although she had followed all the required procedures for taking time off, she says. A malicious attack on her work at another facility in June 2013 left her, she says, “with feelings of disgrace, guilt and shame because of the traumatic work experiences.”
DNR-KISS OF DEATH: Although California tops the list in race discrimination among nurses, in recent years the same practices have been reported in Louisiana, Maryland, Washington, D. C., Mississippi, Arizona, and Nevada, among others.
The most effective weapon used against the black nurses who seek work through the Nursing Registry and the many agencies that supply nurses in California and across America, is the infamous “DNR” —“Do Not Rehire.” Historically, DNR meant “Do Not Resuscitate” and was a code used by doctors to allow moribund patients to die.
Today, however, DNR is the kiss of death for legions of nurses of all stripes, but especially for a disproportionate number of highly-skilled, long-serving Black practitioners, these nurses say. For them, “DNR” translates as either “Do not re-hire,” “Do not re-send” or “Do not send.” Once stigmatized, they say, they will never again be allowed to work for the complaining medical group or facility—ever.
“There are hundreds of us in California,” says Nurse Mary H. “I know personally of 35 or more.
“At a Kaiser clinic in Los Angeles, a young Filipino nurse filed a complaint against a Black male nurse working with her,” Mary H. said. “Although the Black man had not done or said anything to her, she complained that she felt threatened by his mere presence when she was alone with him, and this caused him to be fired and given a DNR there.”
Working on behalf of the nurses is Sandra Gray, whose Social Justice Advocacy firm (SGSJA, PLLC), serves as a bridge between these victims and attorneys who can pursue their cases in the nation’s courts. Based in New York and though not a lawyer, Gray has standing with the New York and the California Bar Associations. Her work is related to the U. S. Department of Justice Access to Justice Initiative of 2010, she says.
“Based on reports that I’ve received,” Gray said in an October 17 interview, “there are about 10 hospitals and mega-health care companies that repeatedly violate the rights of African American nurses.”
“It’s a systemic problem generated by the staff members of these hospitals,” she added. “They have unwritten discriminatory employment policies used to weed out African American Nurses, mainly females.”
These policies are unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights laws of 1964 and of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). “They are using the ‘Do Not Return’ and ‘Do Not Send’ files as a mechanism of discrimination,” Gray says.
Mary H., however, pointed out that she sought redress through EEOC, and got no resolution.
“While waiting for them to investigate, I lost my home,” she said. “Yet they did not do an investigation. They waited until the deadline and then gave me a right to sue letter. But I only had 90 days to get a lawyer and file my lawsuit in federal court. I couldn’t get one to take the case. And so I lost out.”
Gray, nevertheless, says federal and state laws are being violated at the expense of African American nurses.
“The DNR’s have destroyed the professional reputations of the nurses and have destroyed their economic stability and future earning ability,” she concluded.
CUTBACKS AMID SOARING PROFITS: Gray and her clients say nearly all the California hospitals are offenders, but the worst offenders they say are: Kaiser Permanente with nearly 500 sites; Dignity Health with 289 hospitals and care centers; and Sutter Health Care, with 100-plus sites.
Kaiser, the nation’s largest health care operation, is reaping record profits and sits on $1.2 billion in first quarter profits and an overall $21.7 billion cash reserve, according to the San Francisco Business Times (Sep. 17, 2013 & May 9, 2014). Still, the company announced a cut of 400 nurses in Northern and Central California alone, to reduce costs, although medical demands were increasing.
This seems a strange move with vast nursing shortages projected by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in 10 years: “The U.S. nursing shortage is projected to grow to 260,000 registered nurses by 2025,” their report says.
Some of the Black nurses now out of work believe they have been made sacrificial lambs by Kaiser and other companies for the sake of profit.
The state of California stands indicted as the most segregated state and the least responsive to the racial offenses affecting non-White people, according to the May 2014 Civil Rights Project report.
“Segregation is again being accepted as normal,” the report says. And state officials show no inclination to even discuss the glaring disdain for the 1954 Supreme Court Brown vs. Board ruling condemning segregation in the nation’s schools.
The same university that houses the Civil Rights Project, UCLA, is also guilty of permitting egregious racist abuses and humiliation of its black employees.
The 2006 insult and humiliation of a Black surgeon and UCLA Medical School faculty member Dr. Christian Head, 52, is symbolic of the endemic and institutional racist practices at the university and in many other medical facilities affected by university personnel and practices.
Dr. Head was attending a faculty celebration for new residents and was shocked to find himself the featured entertainment at the event.
“”They showed 20 slides consecutively describing me as a poor doctor,” Head said in his YouTube video. “The final slide was a photo of a gorilla on all four with my head photo-shopped on the gorilla with a smile on my face and a Caucasian man completely naked was sodomizing me from behind. And my boss’s head was photo-shopped on the person smiling.”
Head says he confronted his department chairman, Gerald Berke, who just “chuckled and asked ‘What’s the problem?’”
Advised to focus on getting tenure in the department, Head encountered five more years of insults, cutbacks in his pay and work assignments. He finally sued on April 17, 2012. University regents agreed to a $4.5 million settlement with him in July 2013.
The Beverly Hills-Hollywood Chapter NAACP is currently petitioning California Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate UCLA for “ignoring discrimination and retaliation complaints by faculty members.
Black Nurses Prepare Fight for Justice: Invoking the spirit of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Susan King Taylor, three Black pioneers of the American nursing profession in the Civil War, Fatima J. urges her sisters to set aside their fears and steel themselves as if going to war again, this time against racism in the healthcare workplace.
“There are so many nurses being hurt and denied their fundamental human rights, because of their race and gender that I don’t know where to start,” she said. “Too many of them won’t come forth because they’re scared. I’m not afraid to challenge these companies. I know there are some nurses who have suffered much more than I have. And I hope they will join in the fight. Together, we will win this battle.”
Mary H. echoes her sentiments and is ready to join the fight.
“These employers are aware that there is no protection for African American nurses,” She says. “And because so many of us are afraid to go on record with our complaints, these large medical enterprises feel that they can get away with anything they do.”
Earnest McBride is a freelance journalist, formerly of California, now living in Mississippi Contact: [email protected]
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