Racial Profiling in Healthcare: A Black Patient Gets Accused of Stealing Medical Equipment

On June 9th, Shaquille Dukes went for a stroll outside of FHN Memorial Hospital in Freeport, Illinois, where he was a patient. Walking with his brother and boyfriend, he was dressed in a hospital gown with an IV drip in his arm. Then, a security officer stopped them and accused them of stealing medical supplies, leading to their arrest. Now, Dukes is speaking out against racial profiling in the healthcare system. Learn more about this unfortunate incident and how healthcare facilities can prevent it from happening again.

Shaquille Duke’s Wrongful Arrest

Handcuffing patients outside the hospital at which they should be receiving care – not criminal treatment – isn’t just humiliating, it can be dangerous to the patient’s health.

Shaquille Dukes was hospitalized for pneumonia at FHN Memorial Hospital; when he and his group were approached by the security guard, according to Dukes, he raised his arm and told stated that he was a patient. The guard then allegedly said, “Well to me, it looks like you guys are stealing this (equipment).”

The guard then called the Freeport Police, who then arrested all three men, charging them with misdemeanor disorderly conduct. A month later, Dukes is speaking out about the incident and raising awareness for racial profiling in the healthcare system, so this kind of incident doesn’t happen again.

Dukes filed a complaint against the Freeport Police “alleging unfair and biased conduct by responding officers.” The department then responded by saying it had retained a third-party investigator to “gather the facts, interview all parties involved, and determine whether officers conducted themselves in adherence to department policies and guidelines.”

Dukes sat down with representatives of both the hospital and the Freeport Police within days of the incident. He says the hospital tried to offer him financial compensation, but Dukes declined. He later commented on the meeting, “We really wanted to truly see reform or policies stood up around this situation and that has not happened. And it’s clear it won’t happen without some outside oversight.”

He went on to say, “Had he [the officer] simply even attempted to verify or send someone inside to double check our story, we wouldn’t be here.”

FHN Memorial Hospital has yet to comment on the situation.

Racial Profiling in the Healthcare System

Racial profiling is all too common throughout the United States, and the healthcare system is not immune. People of color face harassment or discrimination in all kinds of everyday situations, including going to the hospital. Recent studies show minority groups often experience higher levels of stress and anxiety, and they suffer higher rates of chronic diseases.

If a patient is the victim of racial profiling while receiving medical care, these effects may worsen their symptoms or lead to negative health outcomes, such as higher heart rates, shortness of breath, and increased stress and anxiety. In addition to being victims of racial profiling, U.S. racial and ethnic minorities are sometimes less likely to receive preventive medical treatments than whites and can receive lower-quality care.

Patient care equality should be a goal for all healthcare facilities in the U.S. and abroad. Staff members, including nurses, security guards, health aids, doctors and physicians, should receive training on implicit and unconscious bias and how it can affect patient care and health outcomes.

Healthcare facilities and organizations looking to combat patient bias can get involved with Pursuing Equality, a two-year initiative, launched in April 2017, that aims to reduce inequities in health and healthcare access, treatment, and outcomes by implementing comprehensive strategies to create and sustain equitable health systems. It provides organizations with a roadmap to reduce bias in the workplace, so all patients can access the care they need without facing harassment or discrimination.

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