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Harbor-UCLA Medical Center director resigns amid doctor’s misconduct litigation

The Harbor-UCLA Medical Center is pictured. One of the center’s directors resigned Dec. 6 amid accusations that he had defended a former employee who was sued earlier this year for sexual misconduct. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

By Anna Dai-Liu

Dec. 16, 2023 4:45 p.m.

A Harbor-UCLA Medical Center director resigned from his position Dec. 6, following accusations that he had defended the center’s former orthopedics chief from sexual misconduct allegations.

Dr. Darrell W. Harrington, the hospital’s director of graduate medical education and a designated institutional official, said in a Dec. 6 staff email that a variety of factors – including the hospital’s ongoing litigation with the County of Los Angeles – caused him to step down, according to the Daily Breeze. Harrington is involved in two lawsuits filed in October, which alleged that the center ignored complaints about sexual misconduct and discrimination by former orthopedics chief Dr. Louis Kwong for years.

The Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, located in Torrance, is independently operated by the LA County Department of Health Services. Many of its faculty physicians hold teaching appointments at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and UCLA medical students may participate in internships or rotations at the center.

In October, orthopedic surgeons Drs. Haleh Badkoobehi and Jennifer Hsu, as well as former director of emergency medicine Dr. Madonna Fernandez-Frackelton, filed lawsuits against the hospital. In addition to accusing the administration of neglect, the physicians alleged that Kwong committed sexual misconduct involving unconscious patients and delayed urgent surgeries, among other behaviors that put patients at risk.

The physicians also said they experienced retaliation, such as demotions, after raising these complaints to hospital administration, and that their complaints were repeatedly ignored by various officials, including Harrington.

Similar complaints against Kwong existed as early as 2013. According to the LA Times, a then-medical secretary said in a complaint that Kwong would openly comment on female patients’ genitalia. This complaint was deemed unsubstantiated by LA County.

The October lawsuits also claimed that Kwong, a volunteer deputy sheriff, would wear a gun around the hospital, including in operating rooms. A similar claim was made in a separate lawsuit by former UCLA medical student Dr. Melani Cargle, who alleged that during her rotation at Harbor-UCLA’s orthopedics surgery unit in 2019, her supervisor made inappropriate sexual comments and carried a gun around the center.

Kwong has been placed on administrative leave in March 2022, but by county policy will remain on payroll until investigations are concluded, according to the LA Times.

[Related: Former UCLA medical student sues UCLA Health, LA County for discrimination]

Other hospital staff expressed dissatisfaction with the orthopedic surgery unit as a whole.

The hospital’s emergency medicine residents wrote to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education in March 2022, in which they said the hospital’s leadership neglected to take substantial action in response to their complaints. The complaints included being asked to forge surgeons’ signatures and being verbally harassed by orthopedic residents.

The center was subsequently placed by the council on “probationary accreditation status” in June this year, requiring it to notify all residents, fellows and potential applicants of the status and preventing it from applying for accreditation of additional programs.

In a July letter to hospital staff and prospective applicants, Harrington said the hospital was working to resolve the issues “in a very timely manner.”

“Harbor-UCLA remains a premier institution, committed to excellence in both learning and care,” he said in the hospitalwide letter. “Our change in status will have no impact on our residents, our patients, or our ability to recruit new trainees.”

Harrington will be continuing as the Department of Health Services’ chief academic officer, said chief medical officer Dr. Griselda Gutierrez in a staffwide letter Dec. 6.

“Throughout his tenure, Dr. Harrington was committed to the growth and success of our medical education programs, contributing significantly to our institutional history,” Gutierrez said in the letter. “We are focused on a smooth transition to ensure the continued excellence and stability of our programs.”

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Anna Dai-Liu | Science and health editor
Dai-Liu is the 2023-2024 science and health editor and Copy staff member. She was previously a News staff writer and is currently a third-year neuroscience and comparative literature student.
Dai-Liu is the 2023-2024 science and health editor and Copy staff member. She was previously a News staff writer and is currently a third-year neuroscience and comparative literature student.
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