Home E-Weekly April 3, 2018

Did Surgeon Spray Nurse With Fluid Waste as Part of Hazing Ritual?

Published: April 3, 2018

Abuse Allegations ABUSE ALLEGATIONS Kirsten Maxfield, RN, says she's a victim of repeated gender discrimination.

A surgeon is accused of spraying a nurse with fluid waste at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Mass. The question remains: Was the alleged incident indicative of a male-dominated culture of abuse within the surgical department or a tall tale cooked up by a tattling nurse?

Kirsten Maxfield, RN, says general surgeon Hongyi Choi, MD, sprayed her with contaminated irrigation solution during a procedure performed in April 2017 and laughed along with other members of the surgical team. Ms. Maxfield calls the incident part of a twisted OR hazing ritual and "nothing short of assault" in a report she filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) that claims the incident was part of a series of aggressive and inappropriate behavior she endured from male superiors.

The complaint says Ms. Maxfield reported the incident to UMass Memorial's OR nurse manager, who told her that Dr. Cui admitted to spraying her but claimed it was unintentional. The nurse also allegedly "found it hard to believe" Dr. Cui was capable of the act because he "has prestige" and "is a good surgeon," according to the complaint.

After reporting the incident, Ms. Maxfield says she was subjected to hostile and abusive language from some of her co-workers. She also alleges the hospital did not take her claims seriously and failed to investigate them properly. Ms. Maxfield repeatedly requested to be removed from the "abusive environment" in the OR, but her requests were denied. She was also put on paid administrative leave pending further investigation of the alleged incident, according to the complaint.

Ms. Maxfield claims hospital leadership told her during a July 2017 meeting that she made the whole incident up and that the attack didn't happen, despite Dr. Cui having reportedly admitted to spraying her. She was then given 3 choices, according to the complaint: return to the OR, apply for other open nursing positions within the hospital or move to the hospital's "float pool" staff. Ms. Maxfield deemed none of the options acceptable and decided to resign.

This wasn't the first time she alerted management about alleged mistreatment by male superiors. In August 2016, she reported abusive behavior by an "aggressive" employee who called her "wimp" and showed her the middle finger. She also filed complaints of male staff members using abusive, foul language during procedures and slamming instruments down.

"It is clear that UMass will go to any length to protect its male doctors at the expense of the female staff they victimize," notes the complaint.

"[My client's] story fits into what is sadly a familiar pattern of businesses protecting their male superiors at the expense of their female employees," says Christopher Wurster, the attorney for Ms. Maxfield. "Women shouldn't have to worry about being placed on administrative leave and enduring other consequences for reporting harassment and assault by their supervisors."

Mr. Wuster claims his office has been contacted by other current and former UMass employees who claim to have endured similar experiences. "There seems to be a culture at UMass of dismissing reports of discrimination," he says. "That needs to end."

UMass spokesman Anthony Berry says the medical center takes the allegations very seriously and plans a vigorous defense against them. "We have conducted a thorough investigation of each claim — in accordance with standard procedures — and found no support for the charge's allegations," he adds.

Daniel Cook

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