South Shore Hospital is coming under fire for failing to take action against a prominent physician who told a racially offensive joke at the hospital’s annual fundraiser.
The physician, Dr. Satya P. Ahuja, has served on South Shore Hospital’s Board of Directors since 1993 and chaired the hospital’s Department of Medicine for 10 years.
But on March 7, the doctor bombed as a dinner speaker.
According to some of the people who attended the event, Ahuja told a vulgar joke about an Irish male and an African-American male that focused on the black man’s sexual anatomy.
“When he started on this tangent, it was just unbelievable that these words came out of this man’s mouth in that venue. It was past being disrespectful,” said Brenda Harris, a retired Chicago Public School employee.
“He described the black man in graphic details, particularly his genitals. I was just literally in a state of shock,” she said.
After receiving numerous complaints, the Rev. Rene Chandler of the Baptist Ministers Union of Chicago wrote a letter demanding Ahuja resign from the board.
“Your comments have been interpreted as racial epithets, insensitive, very painful, dehumanizing, humiliating, oppressive, derogatory, unethical and unprofessional,” Chandler said.
“[W]e are recommending that you resign from your assignment as a Board Member at South Shore Hospital effective immediately,” he said.
Ahuja apologized for the “joke” in a letter dated April 21, 2015, that was sent to Chandler, as well as the South Shore board.
“I am truly sorry for what I said. Please be assured these type of sensitive racial remarks will never be repeated,” Ahuja said.
However, many of the attendees had expected the doctor to be forced off the board.
“I am getting feedback from my guests and community people about the fact that they have taken no action,” said Betty L. Johnson, one of three African-American board members.
Ahuja did not return my repeated phone calls to his office and to the South Shore Hospital Board.
Former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, who serves as the board’s treasurer, initially told me the offensive comments “flew” right over his head. He described Ahuja’s remarks as “1970s humor that people don’t use anymore”
Later, he called me and condemned the doctor’s comments.
“No one that I talked to at the hospital believes that Dr. Ahuja should have made those remarks in front of a crowd, and we think it is a shame that this occurred,” he said.
“The hospital will do whatever it can to show that we are not a racist organization, and we don’t condone that kind of humor,” he added.
Meanwhile, a coalition of clergymen is organizing a “peaceful” protest against hospital administrators.
The public demand for Ahuja’s resignation is likely the first strike by community advocates who say they are fed up with leadership at the hospital.
In 2014, Consumer Reports ranked the non-for-profit hospital the least safe for patients in the Chicago area.
Linda Blackman, a teacher, was one of Johnson’s guests who was shocked by what occurred at the fundraiser.
“It wasn’t the kind of joke you’d expect to hear at a fundraiser for a hospital in a room full of African-American people. It was unnerving,” she said.
Follow Mary Mitchell on Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST