“This is how Black people get killed,” Dr. Susan Moore told her Facebook followers in a video she uploaded in early December. She was laying in a hospital bed with oxygen tubes in her nostrils, eyes watering. “When you send them home and they don’t know how to fight for themselves.”
Dr. Moore, 52, was detailing the care she received at an Indianapolis hospital following a covid-19 diagnosis, accusing the facility of treating her poorly and downplaying her symptoms because she was Black. Dr. Moore’s white doctor suggested she be discharged from the hospital earlier than she was comfortable with, considering she was still very short of breath and was in immense pain. She suggested various treatments and only received them after ample pushback from the medical staff and patient services. After some improvement, Dr. Moore was officially discharged. Days later, she was dead.
Now, the hospital’s CEO is suggesting that racism wasn’t the problem, but rather Moore’s attitude. In a statement, Dennis Murphy, CEO of Indiana University North Hospital, ensured that there would be an investigation into Dr. Moore’s claims, but also went to great lengths to defend his staff to the point of making Dr. Moore’s sound like a difficult patient to work with (emphasis ours):
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. I also saw several human perspectives in the story she told – that of physicians who were trying to manage the care of a complex patient in the midst of a pandemic crisis where the medical evidence on specific treatments continues to be debated in medical journals and in the lay press. And the perspective of a nursing team trying to manage a set of critically ill patients in need of care who may have been intimidated by a knowledgeable patient who was using social media to voice her concerns and critique the care they were delivering. All of these perspectives comprise a complex picture. At the end of the day, I am left with the image of a distressed patient who was a member of our own profession—one we all hold dear and that exists to help serve and better the lives of others. These factors make this loss doubly distressing.
Calling Dr. Moore “complex” comes across as a polite way of calling her a bitch, which is alarming enough. But perhaps worse was Murphy’s decision to refer to Dr. Moore as an “intimidating” presence. If he intended to take the stink of racism off his hospital, that certainly didn’t do the trick.
In the now viral video, Dr. Moore said her white doctor didn’t believe she was short of breath and told her she should be discharged immediately despite her protestations. He also didn’t feel comfortable giving her any additional narcotics to ease her pain.
“He made me feel like I was a drug addict, and he knew I was a physician,” Dr. Moore said. It took additional scans, showing that her condition was worsening, for the hospital to agree to provide her pain killer. It’s an obstacle Dr. Moore believed she wouldn’t have had to go through if she was white.
Even then, it took hours for her to receive medication. She inquired about the time-lag to a nurse, who allegedly retorted that he had several other patients to attend to. According to Dr. Moore, the nurse also told her that he participated in Black Lives Matter protests, as if that negated any concerns of racial discrimination.
Dr. Moore was eventually discharged, but within 12 hours her fever spiked, her blood pressure dropped, and her heart rate skyrocketed. She was taken to a different hospital and was transferred to the ICU, where she died after being put on a ventilator.
Her video acts as a cautionary tale of medical racism. Even Moore, a doctor with a medical background, wasn’t exempt from poor treatment. And if a medical professional can’t receive fair treatment, what hope is there for the rest of us?
It’s true that we do not have the perspective of the medical staff who were assigned to Dr. Moore. Covid-19 has been undoubtedly nightmarish for doctors and nurses alike, especially as ICU capacity continues to dwindle. Working with covid-19 patients means that they are putting their lives on the line every day, and as of September over 1,700 healthcare workers have died from covid-19 in the United States, disproportionately people of color. But these stats, these facts, and these realities do not negate Dr. Moore’s. Whether she was “complex” or not, her health was a priority, and her claims are both alarming and typical of that of many Black patients who have had doctors and nurses tell them their pain is imaginary.
Dr. Moore was right. This is how Black people get killed. But Murphy and racially biased medical staff would sooner blame Black patients for their own poor treatment than encourage a morsel of introspection.