Den­ver Health doc­tor un­der fire for racist Face­book com­ments

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Tom McGhee

JoAnn Ni­etto was out­raged to dis­cover that a woman who posted racist com­ments on Face­book about first lady Michelle Obama is an anes­the­si­ol­o­gist em­ployed by Den­ver Health, a pub­lic hos­pi­tal.

“It re­ally out­raged me to see that she works at Den­ver Health, which serves a huge mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion,” Ni­etto said Wed­nes­day.

Dr. Michelle Her­ren, a pe­di­atric anes­the­si­ol­o­gist, was re­spond­ing to praise of Obama, a grad­u­ate of Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity and Har­vard Law, that was posted by one of Ni­etto’s friends, who called the first lady elo­quent.

“Doesn’t seem to be speak­ing too elo­quently here, thank god we can’t hear her!” said the post, which in­cluded a pic­ture of Obama, her face con­torted in a scream. “Har­vard??? That’s a place for ‘en­ti­tled’ folks said all the lib­er­als!”

An­other com­ment fol­lowed: “Mon­key face and poor ebonic English!!! There! I feel bet­ter and am still not racist!!! Just call­ing it like it is!”

Her­ren couldn’t be reached for com­ment. Some­one who an­swered a phone listed in Her­ren’s name said she wasn’t home and hung up.

Her­ren is also listed as a fac­ulty mem­ber on the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado School of Medicine’s web­site.

Ni­etto in­formed Den­ver Health and the CU Board of Re­gents about the post.

Den­ver Health is re­search­ing le­gal op­tions to dis­ci­pline Her­ren, said Kelli Chris­tensen, hos­pi­tal spokes­woman. Later Den­ver Health is­sued the fol­low­ing state­ment: “Un­til fur­ther no­tice, Michelle Her­ren, MD, will not be see­ing pa­tients or pro­vid­ing anes­the­sia ser­vices at Den­ver Health.”

The hos­pi­tal pre­vi­ously had said: “We are dis­gusted by the per­sonal com­ments made by Dr. Her­ren and they are an in­sult to the mis­sion and val­ues of Den­ver Health, and to our staff and pa­tients.

“While the lead­er­ship of Den­ver Health is ap­palled by th­ese re­marks, as a pub­lic en­tity we are con­strained by both state and fed­eral law, in­clud­ing the First Amend­ment right of free speech, to ter­mi­nate any em­ployee for their off-duty com­ments, re­gard­less of how of­fen­sive their com­ments may be.”

Her­ren holds a non­paid fac­ulty ap­point­ment at the CU School of Medicine and a med­i­cal staff ap­point­ment at Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal.

Her­ren is paid $363,000 a year, ac­cord­ing to Den­ver Health.

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