It’s no secret that celebrities get the best tables at restaurants and the royal welcome at shops and hotels. But several patients and insiders tell the I-Team that hospitals are giving the "rich and famous" preferential treatment as well, and claim it could impact your medical care at the most critical times.
"There were a number of experiences that I had over time where it sort of raised the hair on the back of my neck," said Robert Pedowitz, former chairman of UCLA’s orthopedic surgery department. "The ethics of it would suggest that every person who's at the medical center deserves the same access, the same treatment and the same protocols, so it is not fair."
Pedowitz filed an unrelated whistleblower lawsuit against UCLA, and received a $10 million settlement.
Robert Baskin says his wife Yolanda was forced to wait for emergency treatment at UCLA in 2016, because rapper Kanye West had reportedly been admitted to the hospital the same day for exhaustion.
Yolanda was in the midst of a 16-month battle with cancer, which ultimately claimed her life.
"There was obviously a greater security presence then what there typically was. It definitely impacted our getting to the hospital, it definitely impacted the time of getting her in there," Baskin told the I-Team.
"[From] what we've seen, people with a certain amount of access or privilege or sort of a higher profile have the ability to get greater access or greater care," said Kathryn Lybarger, president of AFSCME Local 3299, the University of California’s largest employee union. Local 3299 counts UCLA health workers among its 24,000 members.
"It should be totally unacceptable," Lybarger said.
UCLA declined to comment or answer I-Team questions.
"This is common, every place that I’ve worked," Pedowitz said. "I know it happens at other places around the country."
The I-Team spoke to eight other medical professionals who preferred to not be identified. All confirmed that celebrities, politicians, donors and other "VIPs" are treated differently.
In New York City, two mothers told the I-Team that their medical care and access to their newborns was compromised because they had the misfortune of delivering their babies at the same time as Beyoncé at Lenox Hill Hospital in 2011.
"The hospital just kind of shifted," Rozz Nash said, who had just delivered twin girls by emergency C-section. "It seemed like doctors and nurses had kind of disappeared off the floor."
"We saw that the cameras in the maternity ward had been covered in cardboard, and we thought that was strange," Nash continued. "We saw men walking around in suits and they had badges that said 'special event,' and they were in a maternity ward. So it was really weird."
"We were lucky nothing happened. They were lucky nothing happened."
Another mother who didn't want to be identified told the I-Team that hospital staff told her, "Listen, you have to work with us. You have to be very patient, we have short staff. We have a special event going on."
Lenox Hill declined our requests for an interview and would not provide a statement, but previously told the New York Times "the security plan was designed not to limit access to patient care areas."
After watching his wife endure a long wait for care at a critical time, Baskin says when it comes to medical care, status shouldn't dictate priority.
"Perhaps their VIP policy should just be very important patients with an 'S,'" Baskin said. "That should include everybody."