Hospital punishes workers for policy violation Abington maternity ward supervisors came under fire after giving in to a racially charged demand.

Posted: October 08, 2003

Administrators at Abington Memorial Hospital announced yesterday they had disciplined supervisors who ordered African American employees to stay out of a patient's room after her husband demanded that only white staffers assist in the delivery of his baby.

In a meeting yesterday with local NAACP leaders and members of an African American advisory committee to the hospital, Abington executives said they had meted out "appropriate disciplinary action" against certain employees.

Last week, Donald Clark, president of the NAACP's Willow Grove branch, called upon the hospital to punish those employees who had violated the hospital's antidiscrimination policy.

Details of the disciplinary measure will remain confidential because the hospital does not discuss individual personnel matters, hospital spokeswoman Beth Ann Neill said.

"Although we do have a blame-free environment, that does not mean that hospital employees will not be held accountable for their actions," Neill said. "Our staff must act in accordance with hospital policy."

The hospital, in a full-page advertisement in one edition of today's Inquirer, apologized to the community for the incident.

The racially tinged turmoil was set off by a staffing decision in the maternity ward during the week of Sept. 7. For several days, supervisors accommodated a white man who demanded that no people of color be involved in the delivery of his baby.

The supervisors who instructed minority employees not to enter the patient's room were only seeking to avoid a confrontation with the man, administrators said. Nonetheless, the move offended many staffers, sparked outrage from the community, and was decried by hospital president Richard L. Jones Jr. as "morally reprehensible."

In response, the hospital has apologized to employees, arranged for cultural-sensitivity training, formed an in-house "diversity task force" to study the issue and make recommendations, and revised the antidiscrimination procedure to better handle such a problem.

The announcement that maternity ward supervisors would be disciplined came during yesterday's regularly scheduled meeting between hospital administrators and members of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee.

Formed more than a decade ago, the committee is made up of about two dozen hospital staffers and African American community leaders. The group is dedicated to helping the hospital further the aims of the late civil rights leader.

During the meeting, it was agreed that the committee would have a "more prominent role in helping the hospital move forward," according to a news release issued by the hospital.

"Together, everyone agreed to help make the future better," Neill said. She could not specifically say how the committee would assume a larger role.

Clark, president of the NAACP's Willow Grove branch, said he believed the hospital "heard us loud and clear."

"They have essentially jeopardized the culture of that hospital by fueling a sense of betrayal among its workers," Clark said. "Many people - both black and white - were harmed by this."

Contact staff writer Oliver Prichard at 610-313-8219 or oprichard@phillynews.com.

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