A county human rights panel has found that the Howard County Medical Society discriminated against a man by denying him a medical referral because he had been exposed to the AIDS virus.
In an order issued last week, the panel concluded that "overt discrimination occurred" when the society's secretary told the man that "none of their physicians would accept an HIV positive patient" when he called for a routine medical referral in August of 1988.
The panel awarded the former county resident $1,376 in damages to compensate him for the humiliation and mental anguish he suffered as a result of his call to the medical society.
The panel also ordered the medical society to adopt a policy specifically stating that discrimination based on handicap, including exposure to the HIV virus, will not be tolerated.
The man, who now lives in Anne Arundel County and asked not to be identified, was seeking $50,000 in damages. He could not be reached for comment.
The medical society has consistently denied any discriminatory practices and claimed that many of its member doctors treat AIDS patients.
"I'm very disappointed, I thought we had proved our case quite well," said Dr. Joyce Boyd, medical society president and county health officer.
"The medical society was trying to assure that HIV positive individuals and people with AIDS could get the care they need."
Either party has 30 days to appeal the panel's decision to Circuit Court. Boyd said it has not been decided whether to appeal.
The panel, made up of three members of the county Human Rights Commission, based its decision on testimony heard during eight nights of public hearings last spring and summer.
During those hearings, the man claimed that the society's refusal to provide him with a medical referral caused him emotional and physical problems and ultimately forced him to move from the county.
"When it gets right down to it, I felt scared; I felt my life was threatened. I didn't know if I needed help here in Howard County where I could get it and who to call," the man testified.
He called the medical society in August of 1988 to find a doctor to provide him with routine medical care, telling medical secretary, Kim Davis, that doctors at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore were treating his HIV.
Davis' response, he said, was that "none of the doctors in the society are willing to accept patients who are HIV positive."
Immediately after his conversation with Davis, the man contacted the state human rights commission.