My family has suffered an emotionally traumatic experience from a source we have trusted for years, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC). My son’s routine eczema exam morphed into a terrifying experience due to racial bias or ignorance.
Our 9-year-old son is extremely introverted and sensitive to noises, strangers and unfamiliar routines. Because of this, I was relieved that my calm, patient husband offered to take him to the appointment.
Little did we realize that this appointment would end with a doctor separating our son from his father and filing a report of physical abuse of our son to the Department of Human Services (DHS). She did this in response to an offhand comment our son made about his father in her presence. No clarifying questions were asked of my husband before she removed him from the room. No therapist, social worker or patient advocate was included in the conversation to ensure that my son could express himself clearly to a doctor he perceived as an authority figure. More unprofessional decisions followed.
For more than three hours this father sat alone in a room after having his son taken from him. As a man of color, my husband knew that he had to modulate his demeanor, tone and emotions so as not to be perceived as threatening — even as his son was physically separated from him. The last thing he wanted to add to this situation was security or police even though he knew any physical abuse charges to be unfounded and untrue.
After being called, I raced to the clinic only to be left in the waiting room filled with shock, fear and embarrassment. There was no patient representative or social worker there to inform me of my family’s rights. When summoned, I was allowed only a brief moment to see my young son before he was again taken away. Then, we were all separated from each other.
Although employed by UIHC as a pediatric dermatologist, the doctor assumed the role of therapist and social worker as she spoke to me, isolated in an exam room. It quickly became clear that this doctor did not understand mandatory reporting procedure or consider the effects that report would have on our family.
Her own personal biases became apparent when she stated that she was worried about the physical safety of me and my children. She lectured me on “cultural differences” she assumed exist in my family that made it necessary for her to instruct us on how to be “careful” while raising our son. Since she “too” was a parent, she proceeded to offer unsolicited “parenting tips.”
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Not wanting to come off as an “angry, black woman” I was careful to maintain eye contact and a level voice. All the while, inside I wanted to scream and search for my family.
Instead, I brought up the disproportionately negative effects of a DHS call on families of color. Although the doctor admitted that she does not share certain experiences with people of color, she assured me that she knew “friends of color” also experiencing the unfairness of our nation’s racial divide. Whether by choice or ignorance, this doctor failed to see how her actions were reinforcing systemic injustices. Would she have followed these same steps for a family not of color?
My husband and I are shocked, angry, frustrated and concerned over the assumptions this doctor made that led to the DHS call. How is this doctor and her staff trained and held accountable for their actions? Is this an accepted procedure at UIHC?
We are making our story public in hopes that this doctor and all UIHC staff receive effective, relevant training and support when making these types of calls in the future.
Our family believes that we can be the change we seek. And, by sharing this traumatic experience we will begin our own healing.
An additional note: Our DHS file is in the process of being closed, and we filed a formal grievance through the Patient Experience Department at UIHC. We have also switched follow up care for our son to Mercy Iowa City.
Angie and Jason Jordan live in Iowa City.