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    Harbor-UCLA orthopedic supervisor engaged in sexual misconduct with unconscious patients, doctors allege
    • October 13, 2023

    Three female physicians have filed lawsuits alleging that the former chairman of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center’s Orthopedic Department engaged in sexual misconduct involving unconscious patients, delayed acute surgeries in favor of elective procedures and repeatedly made misogynistic comments to staff.

    Dr. Louis Kwong was named in one lawsuit by Drs. Haleh Badkoobehi and Jennifer Hsu, both orthopedic surgeons, and another by Dr. Madonna Fernandez-Frackelton, the hospital’s former director of emergency medicine. Both suits, filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court, also name Los Angeles County, which operates the medical center and allegedly ignored the women’s complaints about Kwong.

    The women, seeking more than $50,000 in damages, allege myriad employment violations, including retaliation, hostile work environment, harassment, and gender and pregnancy discrimination.

    Kwong, who was placed on leave from his position more than a year ago, could not immediately be reached for comment.

    Officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Health said Thursday, Oct. 12, that steps were taken to investigate allegations against Kwong soon after the complaints surfaced in 2021. That investigation is nearing completion.

    “Should the allegations be substantiated, appropriate corrective actions will be taken,” the DHS said in an email. “It is important to note that civil service rules do not permit any level of discipline against employees until an investigation has concluded. In adhering to these rules, the most an employer can do is place an employee on paid administrative leave until the investigation concludes. The decision to place a civil service employee on administrative leave is not taken lightly.”

    Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, a public teaching hospital and one of two Level 1 trauma centers in the county, also has deep gratitude for “those who courageously stepped forward with their complaints,” DHS said.

    Sexual misconduct alleged

    The lawsuits contain a string of stunning allegations against Kwong.

    Badkoobehi and Hsu allege Kwong committed sexual misconduct on unconscious patients in the Harbor-UCLA operating room in the presence of multiple witnesses. He engaged in “finger-banging” of surgical hip wounds in front of Badkoobehi, while making sexual sounds and saying he was finding the “G-spot,” the lawsuit states.

    Additionally, Badkoobehi alleges Kwong undraped an anesthetized patient to look at his penis after being told it was large, and that he measured the penis size of some patients.

    “He was also reported to lift the surgical gowns to ‘check under the hood’ to view the size of an unconscious Black male’s penis he had been told was large,” the suit states, adding that management at Harbor-UCLA did not investigate the complaint first reported by a UCLA medical student in 2019.

    In another matter dubbed the “baseball incident,” Kwong ordered that a video monitor in the operating room used to measure patients’ vitals be switched off and be used to display a baseball game so that residents could watch during surgery.

    After the baseball incident, Kwong allegedly stripped Badkoobehi of her position as associate program director of the Orthopedic Department, a post she had reportedly excelled in for four years.

    The lawsuit also alleges Kwong told at least three other physicians that he wanted to get rid of Hsu while she was out on maternity leave by getting her to switch to part-time so he could release her, and force her to work at a much less desirable Los Angeles County hospital.

    Fernandez-Frackelton, who served as program director of emergency medicine for 12 years at the 576-bed trauma center was removed from her post after lodging complaints regarding the safety of residents, faculty, and staff, according to her lawsuit.

    “The working environment for women doctors at Harbor has become intolerable,” the suit states. “While numerous women enjoyed positions of leadership at Harbor until recently, the administration decided that there were not enough men in leadership roles, andsystemically removed a significant number of them in 2023.”

    As a program director, Fernandez-Frackelton oversaw the recruitment and training of 64 resident physicians in a four-year training program in emergency medicine.

    The lawsuit states Fernandez-Frackelton received numerous complaints from residents about the sexist, racist, homophobic and antisemitic environment in the Orthopedics Department under Kwong’s leadership.

    Physician residents complain

    Eventually, all 64 residents filed complaints with Harbor-UCLA’s accrediting body, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

    Among the complaints were allegations that Kwong and other male physicians in the Orthopedics Department made crude remarks about female physicians, patients and others, the lawsuit states. Kwong also allegedly covered up a complaint that a doctor was having sex with a patient.

    When Harbor’s chief executive officer told Kwong not to make comments about female colleagues’ looks, Kwong angrily told a female member of the orthopedics faculty that the CEO was a “weak leader,” says the suit.

    Additionally, after a female physician resident reported she had been sexually assaulted in the operating room by a co-worker, Kwong responded that people think Asian men have small genitalia, alleges the complaint.

    In another instance, Kwong allegedly discussed how he “cut his ex-wife’s vagina” to get his baby out and had the sound of a dog barking as the ringtone for her calls to his mobile phone. “He offered to give $100,000 to anyone that married his ex-wife so he did not have to pay her alimony,” the suit states.

    Kwong also allegedly bragged to faculty and residents about his sexual exploits, including telling them about a woman who put her breast in his face and begged for sex.

    The lawsuit states Kwong discussed “autoerotic asphyxiation” in clinics and discussed sex acts during surgeries. Additionally, he allegedly covered up racism, including an incident in which a junior resident called a chief resident the “n” word in a written document.

    Kwong also allegedly regularly used the word “fag” to describe homosexuals, and went on to hire a male candidate without even interviewing a female candidate who was gay.

    The lawsuit says Kwong gave a semi-annual lecture, for which attendance was required for medical students and residents, in which he used depictions and diagrams of males and females to demonstrate sexual positions to use after hip replacement surgery. During his lecture, Kwong allegedly asked female attendees questions that had nothing to do with orthopedic surgery, such as what sexual positions cause penile fractures.

    Fernandez-Frackelton’s suit alleges some residents and interns were required to write notes and prescriptions, including for controlled substances, for patients they had not examined.

    Allegedly armed at hospital

    Members of the orthopedic faculty and others also complained that Kwong, who is a reserve Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, wore a gun at various times at Harbor-UCLA, including in the operating room, clinic, office and conference rooms, and at times when scrubbed in for surgery.

    “Between cases, Dr. Kwong has been witnessed cleaning his gun in the semi-sterile area,” the suit states. “He generally kept his gun in a fanny pack on his waist. Dr. Kwong also made it known that he always carried a knife in his boots at Harbor.”

    One physician resident took a widely circulated photograph of Kwong with the gun strapped to his leg in the Orthopedic Surgery Clinic.

    Contributed by Dr. Tim Ryan

    Harbor-UCLA medical staff allege Orthepedic Department Chairman Dr. Louis Kwong, left, who is a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reserve deputy, frequently carried a gun at the hospital.

    Staff at all medical centers are not allowed to carry weapons or have weapons on medical campuses, the DHS told the Southern California News Group last year after it inquired about the photo.

    Limited exceptions to the weapons ban have previously been made in the case of physicians who also serve as reserve deputies and are fully trained to perform law enforcement functions when called on assignment to provide life-saving support.

    “Reserve deputy physicians at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center must follow strict safety policies, including proper storage of their handgun in a locked safe box while on medical center premises,” DHS said. “They would not have a firearm on their person during a surgical procedure.”

    Meanwhile, Kwong continues to collect about $1 million a year in salary while on administrative leave from Harbor-UCLA, said Carol Gillam, an attorney for the three doctors.

    “Harbor-UCLA has covered up and thus perpetuated dangerous and cruel practices in its Orthopedics Department, in a racist, sexist, homophobic environment where Black and brown patients are treated far worse than white patients,” she said. “This story is unfortunately an all-too-familiar one about powerful doctors at prestigious teaching hospitals abusing patients and flaunting their own privileges and connections to the men who are supposed to supervise, discipline and remove them.”

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    ​ Orange County Register