Protesters demand better treatment of MUSC workers

By Ashley Barker
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published May 15, 2014

Approximately 20 community members silently protested about the treatment of health care workers at the Medical University of South Carolina during today’s board of trustees meeting.

Members of a North Charleston-based group called The Coalition held up signs that said “Stop the unfair treatment for MUSC hospital workers” and “Reinstate Chris Nelson.”

Pastor Thomas A. Dixon (center) and other members of The Coalition protested during the Medical University of South Carolina’s board of trustees meeting on Thursday. (Photo by Ashley Barker)
Pastor Thomas A. Dixon (center) and other members of The Coalition protested during the Medical University of South Carolina’s board of trustees meeting on Thursday. (Photo by Ashley Barker)
Pastor Thomas A. Dixon, a civil rights activist with The Coalition, said Christine G. Nelson worked as a registered nurse at MUSC for 19 years and was “wrongfully terminated” about a month ago.

“She had outstanding evaluations until a recent time when she decided to speak out against injustices that she’s seen here,” Dixon said. “There’s a lot of harassment and intimidation here. Ms. Nelson was basically railroaded out of here.”

Nelson, with the help of The Coalition, appealed the termination, but it was upheld, according to Dixon. He said his group started talking to leaders at MUSC last November about discrimination complaints.

“If they had listened to us back then, Ms. Nelson would have never been terminated,” he said. “We were basically ignored until today.”

Medical university spokeswoman Heather Woolwine said employee separation is a complex, emotional process.

“MUSC takes very seriously our commitment to a fair and equitable work environment for everyone on campus,” Woolwine said in a statement. “It is our policy to respect the privacy of individuals currently and formerly employed at MUSC, thus we will not publicly discuss individual personnel situations.”

An MUSC staff member talked to the group outside the board meeting, and Dixon said he looks forward to future conversations that result in an “amicable settlement.”

“We believe the treatment of the workers reflects on patient care. A well-treated worker is going to extend that treatment to the patient,” Dixon said.

A petition was recently posted online by the Southern Workers Assembly for MUSC to rehire Nelson.

“She was fired after she requested neutral representation in a meeting with supervisors,” the petition says. “Over the past two years, Nelson has reported to co-workers, local church and community leaders, and to the Charleston area members of the state legislature that she and many of her co-workers feel unsafe at work.”

The petition says Nelson has spoken publically against racial discrimination in the hospital, abuses of the Family Medical Leave Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s federal privacy law as well as mistreatment of low-wage workers.

“There’s a serious discrimination situation going on here,” Dixon said.

MUSC is currently creating a strategic plan for improved diversity and inclusion across campus, according to Woolwine. The hospital system is also recruiting a chief diversity officer.

“As an organization, we firmly believe that no one should be discriminated against for any reason, or at any time, based on their age, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender or any other demographic,” Woolwine said in a statement. “We always welcome the opportunity to talk about how we are becoming a more diverse workforce and recognize that the journey is not finished. We want to make sure that no matter who someone is, he or she feels they work in an inclusive environment.”

Dixon referenced the nearly 120-day hospital strike at MUSC in March 1969 as an example of what could happen if leaders at the institution do not listen to the group.

“One of the problems of the 1969 nurses strike here at MUSC was that for a year prior, the administration here was being warned that this was coming and they ignored it,” Dixon said. “They (the nurses) walked off. We don’t want to see that today, but that’s not beyond what we’re going to do.”

Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.

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