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Husband Sues LA Hospital for Racism After Black Mother Dies in Childbirth

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Charles Johnson IV is suing Cedars-Sinai Medical hospital after his wife Kira Dixon Johnson died in childbirth in 2016. She received an emergency C-section while giving birth to the couple’s second child but passed away just 12 hours later. Records show the procedure was performed in just 17 minutes. Johnson suffered from internal bleeding for hours, but the hospital didn’t readmit her to the operating room until it was too late.

Her husband is accusing the hospital of racism and says that what happened to his wife at Cedars-Sinai never would’ve happened to a pregnant white woman. He decided to sue the facility for wrongful death after discovering the disparity in care women of color receive compared to white women. The lawsuit is expected to play out in court next month in Los Angeles.

A Painful Discovery

Johnson never expected that her life would be in danger when she went to Cedars-Sinai to deliver her child in 2016.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that my wife would be here today and be here Sunday celebrating Mother’s Day with her boys if she was a Caucasian woman,” Johnson said at a news conference outside the hospital. “The reality is that on April 12, 2016, when we walked into Cedars-Sinai hospital for what we expected to be the happiest day of our lives, the greatest risk factor that Kira Dixon Johnson faced was racism.”

Johnson believes the hospital ignored his wife’s pain after the botched C-section.

“This is sloppy. It was butchery,” said attorney Nick Rowley. “It shocked everybody that we deposed, all the health care providers, even the head of (obstetrics) here, the head of labor and delivery, looked at it and said ‘No, I’ve never seen one done that fast.’”

Records show the surgeon who performed the procedure accidentally cut into Johnson’s bladder and that she wasn’t properly sutured afterward. When they finally brought her back into the operating room, they found nearly 90% of her blood in her stomach.

The hospital has denied the malpractice suit and said it was founded on principles of diversity and healthcare for all. It also rejected “any mischaracterization of our culture and values.”

“We are actively working to eradicate unconscious bias in health care and advance equity in health care more broadly,” the hospital said in a statement. “We commend Mr. Johnson for the attention he has brought to the important issue of racial disparities in maternal outcomes.”

His wife’s death has sent Charles Johnson on a crusade to raise awareness for the disparities in healthcare for women of color, especially for those that are expecting.

Black women are more than 2.5x more likely to die in childbirth compared to white women.

Johnson even testified before Congress and at the California state capitol in Sacramento to show his support for several bills that are designed to reduce these disparities. For example, a 2019 state law requires doctors and nurses to identify implicit bias at work, and a recent bill would lift the cap on medical malpractice awards.

These awards are currently set at $250,000. Johnson said he doesn’t stand to benefit from removing the malpractice award cap. The trial is headed to court in early May, but both sides have indicated that they are close to reaching a settlement.

If Johnson is successful with the suit, he will be allowed to collect damages from Cedars-Sinai. He’s also looking for an injunction that would require the hospital to add protections for women and mothers of color.

Dr. Kimberly Gregory, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the hospital, testified that she lives with “structural racism” every day and that it often prevents black patients from receiving the same care as whites. She also said Kira Johnson should have gone back to the operating room sooner.

Dr. Sarah Kilpatrick, chair of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department, testified that she told Charles Johnson: “I’m sorry. We failed your family. … This shouldn’t have happened.”

Angelique Washington, a black surgical technologist who was in the room at the time of Johnson’s death, said “patient safety was out the door” when Kira Johnson was being treated.

Washington added that she regularly sees women of color being treated differently than white patients, but she is often too afraid to speak up.

“When I see my Black … patients come in, I say an extra prayer,” Washington said. “I say a silent prayer that all goes well. Because you do have racism very much so in the operating room.”

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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