Black leaders, Howard Co. hospital officials are meeting to address claims of racial tension


Local black leaders have been holding meetings with officials of Howard County General Hospital to address what they call mounting racial problems at the Columbia hospital.

The continuing series of meetings, which began about two months ago, have come amid claims of racial tension among staff members at all levels.

In more than a dozen recent interviews with The Sun, former and current doctors, nurses and administrators -- black and white -- charge that minority employees consistently are barred from positions of authority at the hospital, including managerial posts and committee appointments.

No African-Americans or other minorities hold senior hospital positions. But hospital officials say no race bias exists there.

The hospital officials say their meetings -- with the African American Coalition of Howard County -- are merely part of a community outreach effort. A fourth meeting between hospital leaders and the coalition is scheduled Tuesday. Coalition officials say the meetings are an attempt to improve the hospital's working environment and to jointly develop a plan to address hospital employees' racial concerns.

"Our plan is not to put together a smear campaign," said the Rev. Robert Turner, coalition president. "The problem is not centered on one person or one incident. The main problem is a cultural one. It's a mind-set."

According to interviews with current and former hospital employees, that mind-set is unwelcoming for many minority workers.

The employees -- all of whom asked not to be named for fear of retribution -- allege that minorities work longer hours, believe they cannot voice opinions contrary to white superiors and are less apt to be promoted than whites.

One employee described the climate at the hospital as "pure terror" for minorities. A former employee added: "As a professional, I have never seen anything like it."

Several African-Americans, both current and former employees, say they have developed stress-related physical and psychological problems as a result of the hospital's tense racial climate.

The president of the hospital, Victor A. Broccolino, said serious racial problems do not exist there.

"I have had complaints from every segment of the organization from time to time as to how people were treated," he said. "A person who has a complaint generally feels there is discrimination involved. I have not received an abnormally high number of complaints on racial discrimination."

Broccolino and coalition leaders say that he requested the first meeting with them. He said he did so because had never had "direct dialogue with the organization." Three meetings have been held.

At these meetings, Broccolino said, "The subject of racial discrimination did not come up per se. But there was an indication that the lot of minority employees could be improved. Minorities have the same opportunities as everyone else, but there are ways to enhance those opportunities, to reach out and be pro-active and not reactive."

But several hospital employees said that it is difficult for minorities to rule out race as a factor in their job-related problems when the hospital's senior management is entirely white.

Broccolino acknowledged that no minorities hold top management positions, saying that he hires the most qualified applicants he can find. He said minorities make up 29 percent of the hospital's 1,216 staff members and 15 percent of its management. But others at the hospital disputed his data, alleging that the true representation of minorities in management is lower and that they are concentrated at the lower tiers of management.

Pub Date: 9/26/96

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