Wednesday, May 18, 2005 | 10:45 a.m.
A group of black physicians Tuesday accused Las Vegas hospitals of discrimination, saying they have been harassed and denied work because of their race.
"We are as good or better than anyone else in this city, and there are some things we're not going to tolerate," Dr. James Tate Jr., a trauma surgeon at University Medical Center, said at a news conference in front of the hospital's trauma center.
Tate is the president of the West-Crear Medical Society, the local chapter of the National Medical Association, an organization of black doctors. In strong language, Tate charged UMC and Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center with the worst instances of alleged bias against himself and others.
Tate said UMC accused him of causing harm to patients and of not taking adequate notes on orders he gave verbally, but he said the complaints were merely a sham fabricated by competing doctors designed to force him out.
"The hospital has been very clear in that it is attacking the most outspoken black physician that it can find, i.e., yours truly," Tate said.
UMC and Sunrise both refused to respond to the specific allegations, or even to deny them. UMC spokeswoman Cheryl Persinger said anticipated litigation prevented her from making any comment. Sunrise spokeswoman Glenda McCartney wouldn't talk about the accusations beyond reading a prepared statement.
"Our practices and procedures for dealing with employee issues are very well defined and consistently practiced," McCartney said.
Another case Tate cited was that of kidney specialist Dr. Cyril Ovuworie. Many of his patients of all races joined the news conference to support him.
Ovuworie, who withdrew his services from UMC last year, claimed competing specialists were conspiring to drive him out of town on bogus charges of Medicare fraud. He also said Sunrise deprived him of due process when it demanded he take a drug test.
"This is not about me, it's about my patients," he said. "On behalf of my patients I'm going to fight for them. I'm not going to give up."
Two other doctors said they were punished by the hospitals in question for treating all patients regardless of their ability to pay. Dr. Maurice Gregory said he has been kept off the UMC staff for the last year and a half, while Dr. Karyn Doddy said her group of physical rehabilitation specialists was excluded from Sunrise.
Dr. Winston Price, president of the Washington-based national association, said discrimination in medicine is a national problem that both prevents minorities from becoming doctors and drives them out of the profession once they get there.
"It's been an alarming trend over the last several years to see a number of physicians leaving the practice of medicine, a fair number because of allegations of substandard care, many of which are unsubstantiated," Price said.
The result, he said, is that less than 6 percent of doctors are black.
Tate said the Las Vegas hospitals' alleged discrimination was also directed at patients, citing the case of a "black elected official" who he said was treated unfairly at UMC.
Las Vegas Councilman Lawrence Weekly acknowledged that he was the official in question. To protect his family's privacy, he declined to disclose details of the incident, which occurred while his young daughter was recovering from a broken bone.
Weekly said he wasn't qualified to definitively state that racism was what he experienced.
"There was most definitely some very, very poor customer service," he said. "As far as what those doctors are alleging, I do believe they face some challenges at that hospital."