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Lawsuit claims doctors face ‘indentured servitude’

A Nigerian doctor claims in a lawsuit that the Martinsville hospital has an unwritten policy to recruit minority foreign doctors and force them to “work unhealthy hours and in untenable conditions” under fear of deportation.

A medical staffing company says the doctor’s lawsuit should be dismissed.

In his lawsuit in Danville federal court, hospitalist Chijioke Kingsley Ofoche, a Nigerian citizen, said he was dismayed to realize he was consistently required to care for “an excessive and unsafe number of patients” after being hired to work at Martinsville Memorial Hospital.

Ofoche said he was warned that, if he continued his complaints, he would be fired and would never practice medicine in the U.S. again.

The doctor’s lawsuit states that “every single Hospitalist” working at the hospital is a minority foreign national employed via an H1-B visa. The lawsuit includes a screenshot of the hospital’s website showing the names and faces of eight staff hospitalists.

Hospital practice is to recruit foreign doctors under the visa program to assert “more than ordinary control over those employees due to fear of retaliation and deportation,” Ofoche said, based “upon information and belief.” A heading reads “The Modern Indentured Servitude.”

The lawsuit contends another doctor working under a H1-B visa also experienced “clear retaliation” when she made similar complaints about understaffing and patient safety.

Ofoche is represented by Thomas and Leigh Strelka of Roanoke.

The defendant medical staffing company – Apogee Medical Group, Virginia PC – said the suit should be dismissed because Ofoche’s allegations do not state a claim under federal employment law. Apogee is represented by Mary Elizabeth David of Richmond.

The hospital is represented by Steven D. Brown of Richmond. By agreement, the hospital’s answer is due May 11.