White mom alleges medical clinic refused to treat her adopted black daughter

Elise Solé
Karen Dresser, left, with her daughter Amelia
Karen Dresser says an urgent care facility in Maryland denied Amelia, her black daughter, medical attention because she couldn’t prove their relationship. (Photo: Facebook/Karen Dresser)

A white mother says an urgent care facility denied her black daughter medical treatment, which she tells Yahoo Lifestyle is “racist and discriminatory.”

Karen Dresser, 51, a fourth-grade school teacher in White Plains, Md., formally adopted her 12-year-old daughter, Amelia, in 2007, although they have lived as a family since the girl was a newborn. On Sept. 19, Dresser brought Amelia to the Patient First health clinic in Waldorf, Md. — where the girl has been treated on various occasions — for a suspected broken finger.

“When we arrived, a receptionist asked if I were her guardian and I interpreted that as ‘parent,’ so I said yes,” Dresser tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But it became clear that she didn’t believe me.” Dresser pointed out that Amelia’s medical records were already on file and was told, “You should have brought guardianship documentation, which we need in order to treat your daughter.”

A representative from Patient First did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment; however, the clinic sent a statement to San Fransisco local news station KRON 4, which read, “During registration, if a minor patient is accompanied by an adult who states that they are the patient’s parent, we take them at their word. If the adult states that they are the child’s guardian, we require documentation to confirm that before the patient can be registered.”

Dresser understands the rule, but says after explaining repeatedly that she was Amelia’s mother, no one believed her, and she was not asked to produce Amelia’s health insurance card, which bears their shared last name.

According to the mom, the front desk called over a medical representative who, after a “quick check” of Amelia’s finger, advised her to buy a splint at Walgreens.

Dresser and Amelia left and drove to a neighboring urgent care facility where the girl was treated immediately without question. They also stopped at Target to buy Amelia a gift, a stone that contains tiny treasures.

That day, Dresser wrote a Facebook post about her ordeal and emailed a complaint letter to Patient First, which she also shared. “As a Caucasian woman, I understand that there are places where people might feel obligated to ensure that we are related,” Dresser wrote on Facebook. “However, one of those places is certainly not an urgent care facility where I am using my family’s insurance to pay for medical treatment. My child has medical insurance with our surname listed on it. I had my license…if I had a white daughter, would they expect me to carry a birth certificate on my person? No, they would not have discriminated against us.”

Dresser continued, “This violation of patient care rights is absolutely unacceptable. As a schoolteacher and conscientious human being, I know better than to make verbal assumptions about families. The people at your facility made an assumption about my family that was most certainly based on race. At a minimum, your employees need to have immediate and intense sensitivity training.”

The mom has received Facebook messages from white parents whose black children were allegedly denied medical care based on the same types of rules, including a mother in Texas whose son was forced to wait while he suffered an asthma attack, and a North Carolina grandmother who had to drive back home to collect paperwork before her grandson could be treated.

Dresser received an apology from Patient First, but says it lacked empathy. “I wish they had admitted to handling the situation incorrectly,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It would also help if parents were clearly asked, ‘Are you a guardian or a parent?’”

Amelia stayed calm during the incident, says Dresser, but she no longer wants to be treated at Patient First. “We live in a very diverse county with all types of families,” says Dresser. “We’ve never experienced anything like this.”

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