Three female doctors suing a top LA orthopedic surgeon claim their reports about his alleged disturbing behavior were ignored for years until they were sacked out of retribution.
Dr Madonna Fernandez-Frackelton, Dr. Haleh Badkoobehi and Dr. Jennifer Hsu claim they faced a wall of opposition after launching a lawsuit against Dr. Louis Kwong, the former head of the orthopedics department at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California.
Kwong is accused of sexual harassment, retaliation and lewd behavior, including carrying a gun into his surgery and poking his finger in an unconscious patient’s wound while making sexual noises.
As Kwong continues to be paid upwards of a million dollars while he is under investigation, the trio claim they were stripped of their roles after launching two lawsuits.
Fernandez-Frackelton claims that when she questioned why Kwong remained on the payroll, she was told the hospital had to ‘give a talented guy a chance before you turn into a pumpkin.’
Dr. Louis Kwong, the former head of the orthopedics department at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, pictured with a gun on his hip inside his surgery office
The top LA surgeon is facing a slew of allegations over sexual harassment and lewd behavior, including poking his finger in an unconscious patient’s wound while making sex noises
Kwong, a volunteer deputy sheriff, would allegedly walk into his surgery office with a gun on his hip, among a slew of disturbing allegations that have been leveled against the doctor.
He allegedly asked for a baseball game to be put on the television that was monitoring a patient’s operation.
Kwong also allegedly showed an anesthetized patient’s penis to Badkoobehi after ‘being told it was large’.
The resident doctors also felt encouraged to attend strip clubs together – and were sometimes taken against their consent, the lawsuit claims.
According to the lawsuit, Kwong once asked other Harbor-UCLA employees: ‘Who wants to take body shots of Dr. Badkoobehi?’
And Kwong would often delay emergency surgery so he could perform elective procedures, according to their lawsuit.
‘We had to basically play Tetris moving around pieces to try and appease him,’ Hsu told the LA Times.
But the three female doctors said in their lawsuit their complaints about him were ignored for years, and that there was intense misogyny that existed at the facility, with all three saying they were paid less than their male counterparts.
Kwong has worked at the hospital since 1990 and was placed on leave in March 2022.
Dr Jennifer Hsu launched the lawsuit alongside two of her colleagues, and claimed Kwong’s constant rescheduling of surgeries led others to ‘basically play Tetris moving around pieces to try and appease him’
Dr Madonna Fernandez-Frackeltonsays she was removed as program director of the emergency department and was replaced by a less experienced man after she complained
Dr Haleh Badkoobehi alleged that the surgeon asked other employees if they wanted to ‘take body shots’ off her
Kwong was eventually put on administrative leave in spring 2022, however Harbor UCLA has insisted its policy means he will remain on paid leave while he is under investigation.
Since Kwong was placed on administrative leave, he has earned almost $1 million in pay and benefits in a year, according to the county’s salary database.
‘This system for investigating everything is beyond problematic,’ Badkoobehi said.
‘They received complaint after complaint after complaint over many years, and they were covered up. They were ignored.’
Badkoobehi was the one to allege Kwong stuck his finger in a hip wound, claiming he made sexual sounds while declaring that he was ‘finding the G-spot’.
Despite the hospital’s CEO saying that allegations about Kwong were ‘very serious,’ nothing changed, Badkoobehi said.
This was echoed by Fernandez-Frackelton, who said she became instantly aware that her allegations would cause significant upset at the hospital.
‘I knew if I filed a complaint that [the oversight board] saw as legitimate, I was putting the residency, the hospital, everyone at risk,’ she said.
Kwong’s suspension only came after the doctors raised their complaints with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, a legislative body with the power to shut down the entire facility.
In their complaint, they said the ‘Orthopedic Surgery Department leadership and hospital leadership at Harbor-UCLA have been made aware of and acknowledged these instances of unprofessional behavior,’ for years.
‘However, we feel that no appropriately substantial changes have been made to correct these behaviors and improve this culture.’
Harbor-UCLA Medical Center said in response to the lawsuits that it ‘remains a premier institution, committed to excellence in both learning and care’
Their complaints allegedly led them to lose their prestigious roles at the hospital.
Fernandez-Frackelton says she was removed as program director of the emergency department and was replaced by a less experienced man.
Badkooobehi was also punished by being removed as associate program director for orthopedic surgery residents after she was asked to investigate the allegation Kwong turned on a baseball game in an operating room.
Badkooobehi said a former complaint made in 2019 about another doctor that ended up going viral on Reddit was also used to try and pressure her to stop her allegations.
According to texts seen by the LA Times, she was texted saying: ‘I wish you would have called me about this. I’m very concerned that once the narrative is away from Harbor it is no longer under our control and may very well take on a risk mitigation and assumption that the Reddit thread represent real experiences and observations.’
‘This will undoubtedly be turned towards an investigation of reported events and personalities,’ the text added.
Carol Gillam, who represents the doctors, 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.’
In a statement, Health Services said: ‘Harbor-UCLA remains a premier institution, committed to excellence in both learning and care.’
It claimed that hospital leadership were ‘already working to resolve the concerns of the council and expects to be able to do so in a very timely manner.’