Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lightning Rod for Discrimination at UAB Winds Up in The Bahamas

The University of Alabama at Birmingham's (UAB) medical residency program at Huntsville has been plagued with allegations of discrimination against international medical graduates (IMGs). At least five IMGs have left the program in recent years after alleging that they had been the victims of discrimination--and three legal cases have been filed.

Now we learn that a central figure in all of the cases has left UAB and taken a position at a medical school in The Bahamas. A source tells Legal Schnauzer that Dr. Allan Wilke has been hired as professor and chairman of the Department of Interpretive Medicine at the Ross University School of Medicine in Freeport, Grand Bahama.

Wilke had been director of UAB's family-medicine residency program in Huntsville. But he was demoted after Dr. Seema Gupta, an IMG from India, filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination, and now he has accepted a position outside the United States.

A federal jury in Birmingham found in late June that UAB discriminated against Dr. Gupta, based on her Hindu religion. Political leaders from India had asked U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) in 2006 for assistance with the discrimination problems at UAB--and Shelby apparently took no action.

Dr. Edward Stellmacher, an IMG from Germany, has a pending discrimination lawsuit against UAB. And Dr. Rehan Puri, an IMG from Pakistan, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor. Two other IMGs from India had to return to their home country after being dismissed from the UAB program and were not able to take legal action.

The discrimination cases, if taken seriously by federal agencies in the U.S., could have a profound impact on UAB. The university receives more than $400 million a year in federal research dollars. And it receives a major sum every year from Medicare for graduate medical education (GME), such as that administered in Huntsville.

All of that funding is predicated on abiding by federal anti-discrimination laws. And at least one federal jury already has found that UAB has not abided by such laws. Here's how we put it regarding GME funding in a recent post titled "Does Discrimination Case Put UAB's Federal Funding at Risk?

Consider the money at stake just in GME: As we noted above, UAB receives $100,000 per resident per year. It has 36 residents each year at Huntsville, so that means the university receives $3.6 million for that program. But our research indicates UAB has close to 1,000 medical residents total--most of them in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. If our math is correct, that means UAB receives about $100 million a year for GME.

Dr. Allan Wilke is headed for a position in The Bahamas. But evidence at the Seema Gupta trial indicated that UAB's problems with discrimination against IMGs won't necessarily leave with him. Two other UAB physicians, Dr. Marcia Chesebro and Dr. Melissa Behringer, were implicated in Dr. Gupta's complaint.

And the Gupta trial left this gaping question unanswered: Where on earth were UAB President Carol Garrison, School of Medicine Dean Robert Rich, and Associate Dean Robert Centor when all of this was going on? Apparently they were missing in action, just like Richard Shelby.

UAB has tried to portray the Seema Gupta case as a relatively minor matter, mostly involving the university's failure to provide vegetarian meals at noon seminars. But Dr. Wilke's demotion, his departure for The Bahamas, and other pending legal cases indicate the problems at UAB go way beyond vegetarian lunches.

Consider the money involved in the Gupta case alone. The trial court has found that UAB is liable for roughly $82,000--$2,100 on the verdict, $77,000 for attorney fees, and $2,300 for court costs. UAB is contesting those figures in a mediation before the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. But that's where it stands now with the trial court--and that is not the kind of money that most people would consider minor.

Dr. Wilke's unceremonious exit presents some potentially ugly irony. Evidence at the Gupta trial indicated that he has an extensive history of problems dealing with IMGs. And at Ross University in The Bahamas, he will be dealing almost exclusively with IMGs.

Here in Alabama, the question is this: Are UAB's discrimination problems resolved now that Dr. Allan Wilke has moved off shore? Our guess is that the answer is: "Not by a long shot."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi I am a medical resident from UMN-university of minnesota residency programs.I went through & witnessed the same inhumane treatment of International medical graduates in the UMN that receives federal funds.
Kindly find a way so this gets attention