Penn State Health a national model for anti-bias policy protecting providers

March 28, 2018

Sometimes you make history quite unexpectedly. Such was the case for Dr. Hyma Polimera, an internist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center ­– and the hospital itself.

Polimera grew up in India and had long dreamed of becoming a physician. That dream materialized when she graduated with honors from Andhra Medical College in 2004. After moving to the U.S. in 2008 and completing a residency at St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, she joined the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in 2014.

One fall day in 2016, she met a patient suffering from multiple chronic conditions, including dementia. Polimera introduced herself, and the patient’s daughter, who was his caregiver and power of attorney, immediately asked if they could have another physician. Polimera was blindsided. “May I ask why?” she inquired. But the physician suspected, and the woman confirmed: “I’d like to see an American doctor.”

That encounter sparked a sequence of events that would affect not just Polimera and Hershey Medical Center but the entire Penn State Health system and health care providers throughout the nation.

Polimera immediately contacted her supervisor, reported the incident and the change-of-physician request – as did the charge nurse on duty – and waited for instructions on how best to proceed.

Dr. Brian McGillen, director of hospital medicine at Hershey Medical Center, asked Polimera whether she was comfortable treating the patient. He knew that she was qualified. When she responded yes, he informed the patient’s family that a provider would not be changed simply because of their ethnicity. That decision was the first step in what would become an official Penn State Health policy. Beginning in May 2017, Penn State Health’s Patient Rights and Responsibilities policy was updated to include a section stating that patients cannot decline the care of a provider based on the provider’s race, religion, gender, age or sexual orientation.

Penn State Health became one of the first health care systems nationwide to establish an official anti-bias policy that protects providers when such cases arise. The policy applies not only to Hershey Medical Center but to the entire Penn State Health system.

Learn more about the new policy and how it came about in this Penn State Medicine article.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 29, 2018