A black political action group, charging that Anne Arundel Medical Center has not involved minority firms in its projects, asked the Annapolis hospital Monday to hire more minority-owned companies for a major capital improvements project.
"We are deeply concerned about the lack of involvement of African-American entrepreneurs, professionals and vendors in your various projects," stated a four-page letter from the Black Political Forum of Anne Arundel County. "It should not take demonstrations, lawsuits or confrontations to include in a substantial way a third of the city's population."
Hospital officials, who say they already are working on a minority procurement policy, think the forum's assertions are groundless.
"We're making every effort possible to include minority firms," said Carl A. Brunetto, president of the Anne Arundel General Health Care Systems, Inc. -- the hospital's parent company. "We sincerely attempt to entertain proposals from everyone and anyone on all of our projects."
The Black Political Forum wants AAMC to start more minority recruitment before the hospital begins its $40 million capital improvement project. The plan calls for a $15 million renovation of the existing hospital in downtown Annapolis, as well as spending $25 million on a new women's hospital at the Anne Arundel Medical Park, off Jennifer Road outside the city's limits.
Black leaders want a policy setting a 20-to-30 percent minority procurement goal, said Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden.
"We want to make sure a goal is set before the contracts go out," Mr. Snowden said. "Since they've had no inclusionary plan in the past, participation [of minority firms] has been slim or nil."
Mr. Brunetto said the hospital has been working on a voluntary minority procurement policy for the past six months, prompted by a request from Leonard Blackshear -- the only black member of the Board of Trustees. Mr. Brunetto expects the board to act on the proposal within the next two months.
"The policy would more or less seek out qualified minority contractors, informing them of projects and asking for participation," Mr. Brunetto said.
He said, the hospital will not include a percentage goal or quota in the policy, since its lawyers think such a quota would make AAMC vulnerable to lawsuits.
"If the hospital set percentage goals or quotas, it would open itself up to civil litigation," said Robert Shelton, the hospital's general counsel. Federal law "prohibits discrimination based on race, which includes discriminating against a [predominantly] white firm. The only exception is if there's a predicate of discrimination established. And that's not true here."
But Parren J. Mitchell, former Democratic congressman from Baltimore, disagreed. Mr. Mitchell, now chairman of the Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund in Washington, said a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the issue referred only to governmental agencies, not private enterprise.
Setting goals, or even quotas, would not lead to lawsuits, he said. "I'm working with United Airlines right now to set a goal for minority procurement," he said.
Lewis Bracey, the Black Political Forum chairman, said the hospital is using the legal issue to avoid establishing a definitive goal. "They're just hemming and hawing and hedging around the issue," he said. "Everyone has positive policy statements: 'We won't discriminate.' That's not enough."
Mr. Snowden said the hospital has a history of discrimination. He pointed to a 1987 lawsuit in which a group of black employees said the hospital was not hiring or promoting enough blacks, and that black employees were subject to "disparate treatment."
The suit was settled out of court and led to the hospital's first affirmative action policy. "We have a very strong affirmative action program now," said spokeswoman Fran Counihan.
Hospital employment figures show that the policy's goal -- to have 6.8 percent of all professional positions held by minorities -- has not been met. To date, minorities hold 5 percent of professional positions, including nurses, technicians and therapists. Blacks comprise 2 percent of the professional staff.
The hospital has done better with management positions, where 16 percent of the 140 jobs are held by minorities, 13 percent by blacks. Overall, 26 percent of the hospital's 1,826 employees are minorities, 23 percent black, with most holding non-professional jobs.
"We have recruited vigorously at historically black colleges," said spokeswoman Carolyn J. Tonty. "But even with active solicitation, we have not been able to attract as many minority employees as we would like."
She added that this problem has been experienced by hospitals across the country, citing 1990 statistics showing that only 3.6 percent of the nation's professional nurses are black.