BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Dr. Brenda Pereda, ObGyn has resigned from her position at Los Alamos Medical Center and will be leaving the Women’s Health Clinic in June.
Pereda’s arrival at LAMC in October 2020 delighted many in the community who were concerned about the lack of comprehensive women’s health care at LAMC. The BabyNet subcommittee of the Los Alamos Health Council and other community leaders had been advocating for women’s health care for all ages for more than a year and were hopeful that the LAMC Labor & Delivery Unit and the Women’s Health Clinic would remain open and flourish again with Pereda’s leadership. See
In an interview Wednesday with the Los Alamos Reporter, Pereda said when she came on board with LAMC, there was a long window without an ObGyn. She said she began building the community’s trust with her patient care philosophy, taking more calls than her contract called for and reassuring the community about LAMC being a safe place for ObGyn care.
“I let people know that we have a capable team and that additional surgical backup is on hand in case of an escalated emergency. Trust is built with time and with proving to the community that LAMC is consistent in the care it can provide,” Pereda said.
Pereda said that her onboarding at LAMC in October 2020 was less than optimal in that she didn’t meet anybody for the first year, partly because of the pandemic but partly because there was no effort to have a meet and greet with even a handful of people. After a year on the job, she said she asked to have a meet and greet in her office but there was a minimal turnout.
For the first three months of her employment at LAMC, Pereda said the doctors’ lounge was “semi-welcoming, but that it soon became a “male doctor-centered environment”. She said there was an underlying “non-welcoming feeling” predominantly from four male doctors.
“The doctors’ lounge became psychologically unsafe for me and I seldom went there for anything unless I was in the hospital for a delivery in the middle of the night. I was told statements such as ‘Dr. Pereda needs to go back to Mexico’ were reported to me,” Pereda said. “I find that type of comment distasteful and know that it comes from a place of ignorance. Unless I am willing to teach and spend my most precious resource-time into educating my colleagues about the politics of whose land we are on in the State of New Mexico, I know not to engage in such discourse.”
She said ultimately what matters and is hard to ignore is needing surgical backup and hesitating to call those colleagues, which “dangerously undermines patient safety, particularly in a low resource, rural setting like Los Alamos, New Mexico”.
Pereda also complained about intolerance from surgeons about bumping an elective urology case secondary to an urgent cesarean section.
“This incident gave the four male colleagues more grief. Their sentiments toward me escalated when I added surgical cases, even when I consistently verified with my office assistants that any added case followed these surgeons. I made sure not to interrupt their day and explicitly avoided interfacing with them since we have poor relationships,” she said.
Pereda said she can only conclude that her social identity as a Latina physician of color of Mexican descent may trigger statements such as “she needs to go back to Mexico”.
“The fact that I am a board-certified full-scope ObGyn who is a nationally-known reproductive health specialist may trigger (a male colleague) to call me an ‘abortionist’. I am fellowship trained in family planning, and I provide abortions when indicated for maternal or fetal indications,” she said.
Pereda noted “hostile behavior” towards her such as the male colleague walking around the operating room without greeting her despite being face to face, utter silence when she walks into the doctors’ lounge and reports of the male colleague throwing darts at a photo of her on his dartboard. She said this behavior is “over the top”. She said even if these reports were rumors, they have the same impact of making her feel physically and psychologically unsafe.
“It is harassment and abuse of power as a surgeon, disrespectful as a colleague – and unprofessional,” she said. “As a solo ObGyn practitioner in rural New Mexico, I cannot practice safely knowing that my surgical backup is intentionally intimidating, hostile and unprofessional.”
Pereda said she is not sure if the intolerance to ObGyn needs stems from racism toward her, gender violence in the form of not understanding male privilege in the world and in the field of medicine, “and behaving as if the environment and the academic accolades will be protective toward hostile and intentionally threatening behavior”.
“The lack of diversity at LAMC has been very challenging. I am the only Latina physician. I was hoping that cognitive diversity, the tool kits we bring to the workplace due to our different worldviews, could help us find some common ground, but it has not,” she said.
She said professionalism in the workplace is not negotiable.
“It helps us have a code of conduct for engaging in challenging conversations and situations regardless of our ideologies. I have always met colleagues halfway and have been respectful even when we cannot bridge our perspectives. It’s part of doing no harm to our patients,” she said. “I am disheartened by the lack of accountability toward workplace hostility and to the women of the Los Alamos community. I cannot provide safe care under these circumstances, and I am not resigning by choice but for personal and patient safety.”
Prior to joining LAMC staff, Dr. Pereda spent 10 years at the University of New Mexico Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology where she was an assistant professor and assistant dean of diversity, equity and inclusion. She graduated from the Michigan State College of Human Medicine medical school in 2007. She completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the Detroit Medical Center.
The Los Alamos Reporter reached out to LAMC for a statement on Pereda’s resignation. Spokesperson Wesley Willis replied that as a matter of practice, LAMC maintains strict confidentiality on all personnel matters and is unable to discuss the circumstances surrounding any employee or member of their medical staff..
“What I can tell you is we take allegations like this very seriously and always investigate them to the highest degree in accordance with hospital policies. A thorough investigation has taken place, and we are confident that these claims of a hostile and unsafe work environment are unfounded,” Willis said. “We are diligent in our efforts to provide a safe and healthy environment for all employees and patients.”