A primary care surgeon in southern Minnesota was fired after making controversial remarks during a meeting with the Zumbrota-Mazeppa Board of Education.
According to a letter sent by the School Board to the St. Cloud Times, Dr. Anthony Belseth, head of the orthopedic surgery department at Zumbrota-Mazeppa Area Health Services, was quoted by Zumbrota teacher and board member Ronnie Harmer during a discussion about a 5-year-old student’s need for braces. Belseth told the board that parents should have the final say on whether their child should have the procedure, as it is a major surgery that involves removing and then putting in new bone.
“Many kids as a result of not being able to take care of their (hip) pain, the parents decide to have a cosmetic fix for their child. It is a huge surgery that requires several weeks in and weeks out for them to feel comfortable, recover and then, going back to school,” Belseth said, according to the letter.
Belseth was fired later that night for “improper communications with a Zumbrota-Mazeppa School Board member and with the Board.”
Belseth made similar remarks to the Sartell School Board in 2018, according to WCCO.
Belseth released a statement saying he was “mortified that my words have offended someone. I have a good heart and I love my family.”
“It was never my intention to offend and I take full responsibility for that,” he said in the statement, adding that he apologized to Zumbrota-Mazeppa for “violating the trust” of his patients.
Belseth has the right to appeal his firing to the State Human Rights Commission. The commission has limited resources, and “discussions (in) cases involving doctor-patient relationships often require a different legal and philosophical approach than a normal contract dispute,” according to the Human Rights Commission.
A “great many conversations” take place between parents and doctors without any action against them, “if our role is simply to find resolution,” said David Pulkrabek, a law professor at St. Catherine University. He said he didn’t know how Dr. Belseth’s comments might be perceived outside the medical community.
“I think even if we sit here today and look at this case, and it’s perfectly innocuous and it has no relevance to the context of why this happens (to a child), that’s how it could be perceived, and that could be enough to violate a rule that the state doesn’t like,” Pulkrabek said.
What exactly was covered by the Minnesota Human Rights Act remains to be seen. The state Human Rights Act guarantees people “the protection of laws that prohibit discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or veteran status and each individual’s right to vote in the selection of statewide, state and local officers.”
This isn’t the first time the Human Rights Act has come under scrutiny. Last fall, a school district in eastern Minnesota was accused of disproportionately suspending black students. The district agreed to revise its discipline policy after a six-month investigation into the incident.