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Legacy Emanuel Security Officers Injured A Black Patient, Lawsuit Says

Kent Ewell alleges he was in pain when hospital security handled him roughly without cause, and that the hospital destroyed the evidence.
A sign directs people to the emergency department outside Legacy Emanuel hospital.
Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in North Portland. | COPYRIGHT PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP (USED WITH PERMISSION)
January 4, 2022

A Black patient has filed a lawsuit accusing security personnel at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center of discriminatory treatment.

A lawsuit filed against the hospital on Dec. 28 alleges an ambulance brought Kent Ewell to Legacy Emanuel earlier that month after he reported shoulder and body pain while receiving dialysis.

When he arrived, he was triaged by a white nurse who then told him to go wait in the lobby. According to the lawsuit, Ewell told the nurse he needed a moment to reposition his arm due to pain, but the nurse told him his time was up and called security guards to move him.

“I was at the hospital for help. When I realized they were going to move me, I asked security to not to grab right arm; they could have easily grabbed my left arm, but they chose to cause me more harm. This was very upsetting,” Ewell said in a statement his attorney released to The Lund Report.

According to the lawsuit, security guards placed Ewell in a wheelchair improperly, which led to a painful fall, after which he sobbed on the ground while waiting for medical staff to come to his assistance.

“They left me on the ground for 13 minutes,” Ewell said. “The fear of not being taken care of was overwhelming. “

While he lay unattended on the floor, Ewell called his wife, Marchelle, who summoned his siblings. She arrived at the hospital just after her husband was moved to a hospital bed, and according to the suit, she asked the charge nurse why her husband had been mistreated. The charge nurse later told Ewell’s brother in response to complaints about his treatment that “this shouldn’t have happened,” the lawsuit says.

The nurse also told Ewell’s family that “security guards are trained to move patients and are occasionally used when the hospital is understaffed,” according to the lawsuit.

Ewell stayed at Legacy Emanuel through the night and was transferred to Kaiser Hospital the next day, where he was diagnosed with an infection in his foot.

“Emmanuel employees, including the security guards involved in the improper forceful transfer of Ewell, are responsible for Ewell’s injuries and unnecessary suffering after his medical needs were ignored, and he was forcefully and painfully moved and dropped by security guards,” states the lawsuit, which seeks up to $750,000 in non economic damages.

A few days later, Ewell’s brother asked the hospital for video footage of the incident. But, despite the request to preserve the video evidence, the hospital improperly destroyed it, the suit says. 

“How Emanuel treated Mr. Ewell was alarming and upsetting, especially given Emanuel’s history of profiling Black patients and its legacy of displacement of the Black community in the area,” said Portland attorney Ashlee Albies, who is representing Ewell in the case.

Legacy Health told The Lund Report it does not comment on litigation.

History of allegations

This is not the first time Legacy’s practices have faced scrutiny.

Legacy Emanuel’s was found in 2019 by Disability Rights Oregon to have made more calls to police for trespassing than other area emergency departments. The report, which analyzed how these trespass calls made from Portland ERs criminalize mental illness, found they led to arrests in which people experiencing homelessness and people of color were disproportionately represented.

But in June 2020, people passing by Legacy Emanuel were disturbed when they reportedly witnessed a Black woman being detained in handcuffs outside the hospital entrance for nearly an hour. They took photos and complained to the hospital, and the next day Legacy Health announced it would suspend the use of handcuffs when detaining non-violent trespassers. According to The Oregonian, “the woman had been a patient in the hospital’s emergency department, and when she was discharged, she said she hadn’t been given all of her belongings back. When she wouldn’t leave, she was detained and handcuffed by hospital security and accused of trespass.”

In response to the allegation, Legacy announced an investigation as well as an immediate change in security practices to prohibit handcuffing and trespassing arrests.

The hospital is situated on land that was once part of the thriving Black community in the Albina neighborhood. The hospital acquired 188 properties that were acquired by the city in the 1970s after they were deemed “blighted.” According to Legacy Health’s website, it’s donating a vacant, 1.7-acre block in North Portland for a project honoring Portland’s Black community in an attempt to right these past wrongs. The effort, known as the Williams & Russell Project, began in 2017 with a development announced last summer.

You can reach Emily Green at [email protected] or via Twitter at @GreenWrites.