Last week, we ran the story, “Hospital workers sue over patient who requested only white workers,” of nine Western State Hospital employees are suing the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), which oversees Western State, the hospital, and two hospital administrators, because the hospital accommodated a violent, mentally ill patient’s request for white-only caregivers.
Eight people are suing. Four are white, three are Black, and two are Filipino.
Their attorney, Joe Schaeffer, told the Seattle Times, “It’s shocking that in 2011, there would be segregation on the basis of race from any employer, but most surprising coming from the state.”
The suit claims that the workplace was hostile to the employees.
There is a part of us that wonders if this lawsuit is partially opportunistic. Are these workers engaging the state’s social and health services in a costly lawsuit just to cash in? Or, are they really suing because they believe their civil rights have been violated? It’s hard to know for sure. We earnestly hope that it’s not the former, because DSHS resources are very limited and should not be squandered on a meaningless suit.
This is a complicated issue, and we find it difficult to come out strongly on either side.
If we were to hear a similar story about a big corporation allowing only white employees to become supervisors, we would have an immediate, visceral reaction. We would know that it is wrong. Is this situation at Western State Hospital much different?
It might be.
Would it have been right for the hospital to force non-white employees to interact with a violent mentally ill patient? Is it right to further aggravate someone who is mentally ill? It’s not useful to the treatment.
Also, health care can be a tricky arena to navigate through. Here in the International District, immigrant men and women will go out of their way to visit a health care practitioner because they feel more comfortable with a person who speaks their native language or who shares the same ethnic background. Patients with certain religious beliefs also request specific accommodations.
Female patients can, and often do, request a female doctor or nurse — but we rarely accuse these patients of being sexist.
So before we point fingers at the state for allowing such an injustice to occur, we should take a closer look at the situation, evaluate it, and then respond. ♦