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Three feminine medical doctors sue L.A. County, alleging it ignored complaints about an abusive boss at Harbor-UCLA hospital

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Three main feminine physicians at Harbor-UCLA Medical Middle in Torrance, California, filed go well with final week towards Los Angeles County, the overseer of the enormous educating hospital, contending that its administration ignored years of complaints alleging sexual harassment, retaliation and discriminatory conduct by Dr. Louis Kwong, who till lately was the top of the ability’s orthopedics division.

Dr. Louis Kwong.Harbor-UCLA Medical Middle

Kwong’s actions created a poisonous work atmosphere and put sufferers in danger, the physicians mentioned of their fits, contending in one which he dedicated sexual misconduct on unconscious sufferers within the working room, delayed acute surgical procedure for county residents to carry out elective procedures and as soon as demanded that an working room tv on which a affected person’s operation was being monitored be switched to a baseball sport he needed to observe in the course of the operation. They are saying he additionally wore a gun on the hospital, together with within the working room; Kwong is a volunteer deputy sheriff in Los Angeles County, the county confirmed.

Misogyny permeated the ability, in line with the fits. One physician mentioned she was requested to step down from her place to make approach for a youthful, much less skilled male applicant. The division wanted to offer “a gifted man an opportunity earlier than you flip right into a pumpkin,” her lawsuit says she was instructed.

Dr. Lewis Kwong with a gun at work at the hospital. He is a volunteer deputy sheriff for L.A. County.
Dr. Louis Kwong with a gun on the hospital. He’s a volunteer deputy sheriff for Los Angeles County.Obtained by NBC Information

The plaintiffs are Drs. Haleh Badkoobehi and Jennifer Hsu — who’re orthopedic surgeons — and Dr. Madonna Fernandez-Frackelton, a former longtime program director of emergency medication on the facility. Of their lawsuits, they are saying that they had been demoted or in any other case retaliated towards once they complained about Kwong’s conduct and that hospital directors ignored written and verbal complaints about him for years.

Harbor-UCLA Medical Middle is a degree 1 trauma heart in Torrance with 576 beds that serves a largely middle- and lower-income inhabitants. Los Angeles County’s Division of Well being Providers operates the hospital, which has a extremely ranked residency program affiliated with UCLA Medical College.

The lawsuits involving Harbor-UCLA Medical Middle observe different incidents at well being care services affiliated with prestigious universities the place complaints about medical doctors had been allegedly dismissed for years.

Orthopedic surgeon Jennifer Hsu.
Harbor-UCLA Medical Middle orthopedic surgeon Jennifer Hsu.Courtesy Jennifer Hsu

Earlier than they sued, all three physicians tried different cures over a few years, in line with their fits, together with submitting grievances with the county and complaining to superiors. They are saying that the issues persist and in one of many actions say that they’re suing to “assist create a safer and extra tolerant ambiance” on the facility “for future sufferers, girls and different focused teams.”

“They depend on us being too ashamed and terrified for our careers to come back ahead,” Badkoobehi mentioned in an interview.

Kwong was positioned on administrative depart in March 2022, and the county employed a legislation agency, Sheppard Mullin, to analyze the allegations. The investigator on the legislation agency declined to remark.

Whereas the investigation is ongoing and Kwong is on depart, he has earned as a lot as $1 million in pay and advantages in a yr, in line with the web site of Clear California, a public workers pay and pension database. A graduate of UCLA Medical College, Kwong has labored at Harbor-UCLA since 1990, his résumé reveals. He didn’t reply to an electronic mail and a voicemail searching for remark.

In late June, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Training, the impartial group overseeing accreditation of post-medical faculty residency and fellowship packages, positioned Harbor-UCLA on probation, in line with its web site. The transfer adopted a website go to in April by the group after Fernandez-Frackelton and all 64 of her emergency division residents submitted a criticism to the overseer in regards to the poisonous work atmosphere within the hospital’s orthopedics unit, beforehand led by Kwong.

After she complained to her superiors in regards to the poisonous atmosphere her residents encountered within the orthopedics unit, Fernandez-Frackelton, 53, was eliminated as program director of the emergency division. She had led it for 12 years, however in June, a youthful, much less skilled man changed her, in line with her lawsuit. Fernandez-Frackelton was instructed the division wanted to offer “a gifted man an opportunity earlier than you flip right into a pumpkin,” the lawsuit says.  

Former program director of emergency medicine, Madonna Fernandez-Frackelton.
Dr. Madonna Fernandez-Frackelton, the previous program director of emergency medication at Harbor-UCLA Medical Middle. Madonna Fernandez-Frackelton

A consultant of the Los Angeles County Division of Well being Providers declined to touch upon the litigation however mentioned in a press release, “Harbor-UCLA Medical Middle is dedicated to the well being and security of our sufferers and employees. These allegations of misconduct are being completely investigated and, if substantiated, will lead to acceptable corrective actions. We deeply worth the belief the general public locations in our devoted medical and affected person care groups. Safeguarding affected person care is our highest precedence.”

In one other latest incident involving UCLA, James Heaps, a longtime gynecologist at UCLA’s pupil well being heart and Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Middle, was sentenced in April to 11 years in jail for sexually abusing feminine sufferers for years. UCLA paid $700 million to settle a whole bunch of complaints from Heaps’ sufferers, a few of whom mentioned the college ignored their complaints.

In June, Robert Hadden, a longtime former OB-GYN at Columbia College in New York, was sentenced to twenty years in jail for molesting sufferers over many years. An extra 300 Hadden sufferers sued Columbia this month, saying it had lined up for him. And final yr, the College of Michigan paid $490 million to greater than 1,000 college students who mentioned they had been abused by Robert Anderson, a sports activities physician.

Carol Gillam represents the three physicians of their lawsuits towards Los Angeles County. In a press release, she mentioned: “This story is sadly an all too acquainted one about highly effective medical doctors at prestigious educating hospitals abusing sufferers and flaunting their very own privileges and connections to the lads who’re presupposed to supervise, self-discipline and take away them.”

Among the many incidents involving affected person abuse at Harbor-UCLA, in line with one of many lawsuits, is an episode when Badkoobehi noticed Kwong “engaged in ‘finger banging’ of surgical hip wounds” on an unconscious affected person whereas making sexual sounds and saying he was “discovering the G-spot.” In one other, Kwong allegedly undraped an anesthetized affected person in entrance of Badkoobehi “to have a look at his penis after being instructed it was giant.”

Orthopedic surgeons Haleh Badkoobehi.
Dr. Haleh Badkoobehi, an orthopedic surgeon at Harbor-UCLA Medical Middle.Courtesy Haleh Badkoobehi

Hsu additionally alleges that Kwong frequently delayed pressing trauma operations so he might carry out elective, nonacute operations. “There have been undoubtedly instances the place we needed to transfer different a number of sufferers round to accommodate his elective circumstances,” Hsu mentioned in an interview, including that the delays might prolong to greater than per week. That was reported to administration, however Kwong confronted no repercussions, the go well with says.

Badkoobehi offered texts to NBC Information displaying that in 2016 the hospital’s CEO confirmed that the allegations towards Kwong had been “very severe” and that the ability’s threat administration unit was conscious and concerned. Nothing modified, the surgeon mentioned. All three of the medical doctors say they acquired decrease pay than their male counterparts on the facility. 

The fits describe misogynistic incidents on the hospital; one instance: When Kwong requested different Harbor-UCLA workers, “Who desires to take physique pictures off Dr. Badkoobehi?” Residents within the Harbor-UCLA program had been additionally inspired to attend strip golf equipment collectively, one lawsuit says, with a feminine resident saying “she was taken to the strip membership from work with out her consent.” At a lecture by Kwong that college students and residents had been required to attend, it says, Kwong requested Badkoobehi and different girls there: “What sexual place causes a penile fracture?” He stored pushing for a response, the lawsuit says, till he bought the reply: “reverse cowgirl.”

As director of the orthopedics residency program on the hospital, Kwong attended school conferences to pick candidates. At one level, one lawsuit says, Kwong held up photos of two Black male candidates, asking: “Would you like Brother X or Brother Y?”

Three feminine medical doctors sue L.A. County, alleging it ignored complaints about an abusive boss at Harbor-UCLA hospital - One News Cafe

Since 2016, Kwong has acquired over $800,000 in funds from medical machine and pharmaceutical producers, greater than the imply funds acquired by different physicians within the specialty, in line with data from the Facilities for Medicare and Medicaid Providers. He has additionally acquired $665,000 in related analysis funding from pharmaceutical and medical machine makers on a undertaking for which he’s a principal investigator.

“I really like working with the sufferers,” Fernandez-Frackelton instructed NBC Information. “It’s an underserved inhabitants, the working poor in Los Angeles, and actually satisfying and rewarding to look after them. However our system ought to reply to complaints in regards to the insufficient care they’re getting.”  

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