Advocate Christ Hospital Lawsuit, Alleging Racial Discrimination

Advocate Christ Medical Center

A Chicago woman suing over incident from when she brought in her son.

Robinson claims that when she brought her 10-month-old son to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn because he had a strange mark on his ear, doctors thought it was a bruise and assumed that because he was Black, he had been abused, according to a lawsuit filed late last month.

According to the lawsuit, the mark on Robinson’s son’s ear was likely a birthmark – not a bruise, which was filed April 20 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The lawsuit claims doctors at Advocate Christ in Oak Lawn contacted the Department of Children and Family Services shortly after meeting Robinson last year, before they knew for sure what the mark was. After making a DCFS report, they performed medically unnecessary tests on her son, such as a head CT and bone scan, the lawsuit claims.

It is alleged that a DCFS caseworker told Robinson she might have to place her son in foster care, and that she was ultimately required to live with her uncle for about a week after leaving the hospital.

According to the complaint, Advocate Christ made false assumptions about Ms. Robinson based on her race. “Based solely on these assumptions and before conducting a medical examination to confirm, Advocate Christ and its staff jumped to the conclusion that Robinson had intentionally injured herself and filed a complaint against her with DCFS.”

Advocate Christ said in a statement Tuesday: “Our top priority is to provide the safest, highest quality and equitable care to every patient. We take all concerns seriously and are thoroughly reviewing the complaint, which we just recently received.” Two Advocate Christ doctors are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Robertson, 36, of Beverly, is being represented on a pro bono basis by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and law firm Burke, Warren, MacKay, & Serritella, P.C. The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights advocates for racial equity and economic opportunity.

The mark on her son’s outer ear was first noticed by Robinson in late April of last year. Robinson spoke with the nurse at the health center where her son usually receives care, and the nurse advised her to take him to a clinic to be examined.

Because it was late in the day, Robinson took him to OSF Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Evergreen Park. According to the lawsuit, she was told that he looked fine and to leave the mark alone so they could go home.

That week, however, Robinson noticed that the mark was not better, and the area around it appeared more irritated. According to the lawsuit, she had a telehealth appointment with her son’s usual pediatric center, and she was told to take him to a hospital.

Robinson went to Advocate Christ with her son on April 28, where doctors asked how her son had acquired the mark. Her doctors, at that point, performed a physical exam on her son and put in the medical record that the mark appeared to be a hematoma, a pool of blood that forms after an injury. According to the lawsuit, it was “suspicious of a pinching of the ear, nonaccidental trauma.”

According to the complaint, DCFS was informed of “a suspected case of child abuse by Ms. Robinson.”. Hospital staff attempted to drain the mark after involving DCFS. The lawsuit alleges that there was no drainage, which would have been expected with a hematoma.

Nevertheless, the baby was admitted to the hospital for a “DCFS workup,” according to the lawsuit.

Robinson claims that while she was at the hospital, a member of staff told her that the hospital treated Black families differently than white families who brought their children with bruises. Robinson said staff members asked about her son’s father and commented on her son’s curly hair and fair skin.

“Ms. Robinson, who is darker skinned than her son, experienced these comments as not only racist and offensive but also as micro-aggressive challenges to her parentage of her child,” the lawsuit alleges.

On the day Robinson brought her son to the hospital, a DCFS caseworker told her DCFS was implementing a “safety plan” for her child, according to the lawsuit, in which he would either need to be placed with another family member or in foster care. During that time, a pediatrician at the hospital also allegedly encouraged Robinson to place her son in foster care for a few days.

“To say I was blindsided is an understatement,” Robinson told the Tribune. “I was made to feel like I was crazy. Everything that was being said to me was against rational, logical thought, from my point of view.”

Robinson objected to the plan, and the ENT who had examined her son at the hospital said he agreed with her and would speak with DCFS as well. Later that day, DCFS modified Robinson’s safety plan to allow her to stay with her son under the supervision of her uncle, according to the lawsuit.
The safety plan ended on May 6. They stayed with him for about a week.
Robinson’s experience allegedly is part of a larger pattern of discrimination in health care and child welfare. The committee and Legal Aid Chicago also filed a complaint against the hospital and DCFS in October with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, said Beatriz Diaz-Pollack, senior counsel with the committee.

“It is unfortunately representative of systemic issues,” Diaz-Pollack said. “This is both a case where a Black mother and her son were individually harmed and we’re seeking redress for her in her individual capacity, but also based on what we’ve learned about biases in the health care system, this case has the potential to make a positive impact.”

According to the lawsuit, Robinson wants damages and an order requiring Advocate Christ to “implement and enforce policies, procedures and trainings to prevent racially biased and/or racially motivated medical treatment and reporting to DCFS and other government agencies,” among other things.

“How do you know a system is broken? How do you know things just aren’t right? How do you know an injustice has happened?” Robinson said. “In the moment, you don’t really think those things. In the moment, you just panic. But once those moments passed and I had a moment to think, I knew I couldn’t just let that stand.”

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Lisa Schencker


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