Three female physicians at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles have taken legal action against Los Angeles County over alleged years of sexual harassment, retaliation, and discrimination by Dr. Louis Kwong. The physicians claim that Kwong created a toxic work environment and compromised patient safety. They assert that he engaged in sexual misconduct with unconscious patients in the operating room, prioritized elective procedures over acute surgeries, and even demanded that a TV in the operating room be switched to a baseball game during a patient’s operation. Shockingly, it is also alleged that Kwong wore a gun at the hospital.
In addition to the misconduct by Kwong, the physicians point to a prevailing culture of misogyny at the medical center. They reveal that one female physician was asked to step down to make way for a less experienced male applicant. These incidents were reportedly ignored by hospital management for an extended period of time, prompting the plaintiffs – Drs. Haleh Badkoobehi, Jennifer Hsu, and Madonna Fernandez-Frackelton – to experience demotions and retaliation when they complained about Kwong’s behavior.
Harbor-UCLA Medical Center is a level 1 trauma center serving a middle- and lower-income population. The facility, operated by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, has been placed on probation by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education following a complaint by Dr. Fernandez-Frackelton and her emergency department residents about the toxic work environment in the orthopedics unit.
The lawsuit against Los Angeles County and Kwong comes amidst a growing trend of similar incidents at renowned university-affiliated health care facilities, where complaints about doctors have allegedly been dismissed for years. Prior to taking legal action, the physicians attempted other remedies, such as filing grievances and reporting the issues to superiors. However, they claim that the problems persist, leading them to file the lawsuit in order to create a safer atmosphere for future patients.
Dr. Kwong has been on administrative leave since March 2022, and the county has hired a law firm to investigate the allegations. The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services declined to comment on the ongoing litigation but expressed a commitment to the health and safety of patients and staff, promising appropriate action if the allegations are substantiated.
Carol Gillam, the attorney representing the physicians, argues that this case is part of a larger trend of doctors at prestigious teaching hospitals mistreating patients and being shielded by their superiors. The lawsuit also reveals incidents of patient abuse, including sexual misconduct by Kwong in the operating room and delays in urgent trauma surgeries to accommodate elective procedures. Furthermore, all three doctors assert that they were paid less than their male colleagues at the medical center.
An additional concern raised in the lawsuit is Dr. Kwong’s significant financial ties with medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturers since 2016. This is seen as a potential conflict of interest that could have compromised patient care.
The lawsuit brought by these courageous female physicians seeks not only justice for themselves but also aims to shed light on and rectify a systemic problem within the medical field. By coming forward, they hope to create a safer environment for all patients while holding the responsible parties accountable.
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