Doctors ask Advocate Health Care to support physicians in Gaza and those who support them

Three doctors with Advocate Health Care shared concerns Friday about humanitarian issues in Gaza, calling on their employer to speak out against physician and patient deaths experienced there during the Israel-Hamas war.

The doctors sought a statement in support physicians in Palestine, for management to contribute humanitarian aid, the creation of “safe spaces to discuss Gaza” at work and a leadership pledge of “sustained commitment to this effort and other efforts regarding global health crises around the world,” according to Dr. Yasser Said, an internal medicine and pediatrics physician at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn and Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.

“We hope that Advocate can meet us with these very reasonable requests,” said Said.

Advocate Health Care responded Friday with a statement, saying the health system “stands with all those impacted by the war in Gaza and Israel, including our patients, teammates and communities.”

“We respect our teammates’ right to share their personal opinions, and will continue to be a place where all can share their perspectives, learn from each other and express grief over this ongoing tragedy,” the statement reads.

But the doctors likened the Israel-Hamas war to the Russia-Ukraine war and accused Advocate Health of failing to respond to the humanitarian aspects of the two conflicts in the same fashion. The medical center condemned attacks on Ukraine’s health care infrastructure and provided aid to health care workers, according to the U.S. Palestinian Community Network and the Chicago chapter of Healthcare Workers for Palestine.

“The only difference is who the victims are,” said Dr. Tammy Abughnaim, an emergency physician at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago. “Advocate’s ability to respond should not be dependent on the geopolitical situation.”

After Oct. 7, when Hamas’ attack on Israel killed 1,200 people and Hamas took about 250 hostages, Israel responded with a military offensive that has killed about 35,000 Palestinians including 500 health care workers, The Associated Press reports.

Dr. Thaer Ahmad, a Palestinian-American who is an emergency medicine physician at Advocate Christ Medical Center, described a less than supportive environment from the medical group’s leadership.

“We have been met with silence, we have had doors closed in our faces and we have had no opportunity to address what’s really affecting the entire community at large,” Ahmad said. “There has been no space that’s been created.”

The doctors all said there has been an uptick in Islamophobia at work, including one instance where an unnamed doctor told a colleague “we should nuke all the Arabs,” according to Said. Another doctor was asked to remove a pin that signifies solidarity with Palestine.

Advocate Health did not respond to a request for comment over those accusation surrounding the Israel-Hamas war.

Doctors and staff members held a silent protest for Friday night at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where staff planned to silently remember the doctors who have died during the war.

In 2020, Advocate Christ Medical Center staff silently knelt at the same Oak Lawn location to protest the murder of George Floyd and to advocate for racial justice.

The doctors said they are not aware of any potential negative reaction from their employer over the unsanctioned protest.