The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the inequalities of the U.S. healthcare system. Black and brown patients continue to face obstacles when accessing medical care, even in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
At Scrubs Mag, we were devastated to hear about the death of Dr. Susan Moore. She passed away earlier this month after being treated for COVID-19 at a hospital in Indiana. During her stay, she posted a video on social media about how she was being denied care because of the color of her skin.
Now the CEO of the hospital is responding to the incident, but his words are only making matters worse.
Responding to a Tragedy
Dr. Susan Moore, who runs her own family health practice, went to Indiana University Health Hospital seeking treatment for the coronavirus earlier this month. In a viral social media video, she recorded herself lying on the hospital bed in pain.
She accused the doctors of denying her care because she was black, including access to Remdesivir, which has been shown to shorten recovery times for those hospitalized with the virus. She also said the doctors misled her regarding the results of her CT scan. They told her the results came back normal, but after asking repeatedly to see the scan, she discovered she had excess fluid in her lungs.
She was later sent home from the hospital without the care she needed, only to be readmitted to another hospital less than 12 hours later.
Before being released from the hospital, she said, “I put forth, and I maintain, if I was white, I wouldn’t have to go through that.”
“This is how black people get killed When you send them home and they don’t know how to fight for themselves,” she went on to say in the video, while adding the hospital made her feel like a “drug addict”.
Dr. Moore died of COVID-19 complications on December 20th at the age of 52.
Several weeks later, the president and CEO of IU Health Hospital Dennis M. Murphy has now released a press release describing the incident. He refers to Dr. Moore as a “complex patient.” He also said the doctors and staff that were treating her for COVID-19 “may have been intimidated by a knowledgeable patient who was using social media to voice her concerns and critique the care they were delivering.”
In the press release, Murphy added, “I am even more saddened by the experience she described in the video. It hurt me personally to see a patient reach out via social media because they felt their care was inadequate and their personal needs were not being heard.”
The statement appears to contradict itself. On the one hand, Murphy has promised to assemble a diverse group of healthcare professionals to investigate what happened to Dr. Moore, while denying any wrongdoing.
“I do not believe that we failed the technical aspects of the delivery of Dr. Moore’s care,” Murphy wrote. “I am concerned, however, that we may not have shown the level of compassion and respect we strive for in understanding what matters most to patients. I am worried that our care team did not have the time due to the burden of this pandemic to hear and understand patient concerns and questions.”
The CEO’s comments were quickly met with outrage across the medical and African American communities.
Dr. Moore leaves behind her 19-year-old son Henry Muhammad, who’s been speaking out since his mother’s untimely death. He says she knew her medical history better than anyone.
“I don’t understand how knowing your medical history is intimidating to a nurse or hospital staff,” Muhammed said.
While the incident continues to draw backlash across the country, Muhammad says no one from the hospital, other than one chaplain, has reached out to him regarding his mother’s death.
As for the investigation, Muhammed says he’s still not sure whether they will press charges against IU Health Hospital. “I hope they do an honest, unbiased investigation,” he said of the hospital. “But I can only hope for that. I don’t know if they will.”
Dr. Theresa Chapple, a Black physician and public health advocate from Maryland, says she felt “gaslit” by Murphy’s response.
“It is so utterly ridiculous and also something that black people have been going through for quite some time in this country, and that includes black doctors,” Chapple said in an interview. “We have gone through this when we try to advocate for ourselves, when we try to advocate for our children. We’re dismissed. We’re seen as angry, or upset or volatile. Intimidating is a new one that I hadn’t heard before reading this.”
“One of the ways that we tell women that they can do to help address that is to advocate for themselves or to have an advocate there with them. So, to now take this tried-and-true approach that we know helps in certain circumstances and be able to clearly see that it does not help when you’re black and educated, it’s really a slap in the face,” Chapple said. “What else can you do to save your own life?”
Others have referred to the president’s response as “victim-blaming”.
Christie VanHorne, a public health advocate from New York whose company, CVH Consulting, works to improve communication between patients and medical providers, says:
“It’s honestly a disgrace to the medical profession that they would blame the victim and the nursing team. To say that the nurses were intimidated by the patient, it’s absolutely ridiculous when she was just trying to advocate for herself.”
Dr. Moore’s death remains a tragedy, one that might have been prevented if the doctors would have only listened to her concerns.