Los Angeles County is being sued by three doctors who allege the former head of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center’s orthopedics department made sexist and racist comments. They further claim hospital leaders ignored their complaints.
Orthopedic surgeons Dr. Haleh Badkoobehi and Dr. Jennifer Hsu, and former head of emergency medicine Dr. Madonna Fernandez-Frackelton allege a variety of misbehavior by Dr. Louis Kwong, the former head of the orthopedics department at the Torrance hospital, NBC News reports.
The New York Post reported that Kwong is “a Harvard-trained expert” in orthopedic surgery who led the team operating on Tiger Woods after the golfer’s 2021 car crash.
Fellow doctors at the hospital, however, paint a troubling picture of Kwong’s professional behavior.
For instance, Badkoobehi claims Kwong “engaged in ‘finger banging’ of surgical hip wounds” while a patient was unconscious, and while doing this, he simulated sex sounds and said he was “finding the G-spot.”
He also allegedly asked fellow hospital employees, “Who wants to take body shots of Dr. Badkoobehi?”
Additionally, Kwong allegedly prioritized some of his elective procedures over “urgent trauma operations,” sometimes causing delays of up to a week for patients, Hsu told NBC News.
When it came to choosing residents for the hospital, Kwong allegedly held up pictures of two Black candidates and asked his colleagues, “Do you want Brother X or Brother Y?”
Furthermore, Kwong, a volunteer deputy for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, wore his gun at the hospital, including in the operating room, the doctors claim.
Kwong was placed on paid administrative leave in March last year, NBC reports. He is still listed on the hospital’s website as a faculty member, but he is not identified as the department’s chair.
In 2016, the hospital’s CEO confirmed “very serious” allegations against Kwong were being investigated, according to text messages Badkoobehi showed NBC. Despite the claims, nothing changed, the women said.
Fernandez-Frackelton also reported Kwong to management for creating a “toxic environment” for her residents, but she instead was removed as head of the emergency department in June, she said.
She had been there 12 years, but she was replaced by a “younger, less experienced man” and was told “the department needed to give ‘a talented guy a chance before you turn into a pumpkin,'” NBC reports.
Kwong could not be reached at phone numbers listed for him online, but Harbor-UCLA Medical Center sent a statement to KTLA declining to comment on personnel matters or ongoing litigation. Hospital officials did, however, detail the process leading up to this point, thanking “those who courageously stepped forward with their complaints and collaborated throughout this investigative process.”
“Safeguarding patient care is our highest priority, which is why we immediately took steps to thoroughly investigate the allegations of misconduct by hiring an outside firm to lead an impartial and in-depth investigation,” the statement said. “That investigation is coming to a close. Should the allegations be substantiated, appropriate corrective actions will be taken.”
Hospital officials further explained that their employees are protected by the civil service rules governing all county employers, but they “immediately took action by utilizing all available resources” once the allegations were “officially reported” in fall 2021.
“It is important to note that civil service rules do not permit any level of discipline against employees until an investigation has concluded,” the statement said. “In adhering to these rules, the most an employer can do is place an employee on paid administrative leave until the investigation concludes.”
“The external firm is currently finalizing its rigorous investigation … In all we do, the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center remains dedicated to upholding the highest standards of care, trust, and responsibility,” hospital officials added.