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Black doctor dies of COVID-19 after complaining of racist treatment at Indiana hospital

"This is how Black people get killed."
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Posted at 8:45 PM, Dec 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-25 08:06:21-05

Editor's note: A full statement from the head of IU Health was released Thursday evening. A copy of that statement is included at the end of this story.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A Black Indianapolis physician died on Sunday with COVID-19 after she complained of racist treatment from IU Health North Hospital, according to her family.

In a now-viral video, Dr. Susan Moore recorded her every step when seeking treatment after contracting COVID-19 on Nov. 29. Moore claimed she had to beg for CT scans and a drug that could significantly reduce her recovery time called remdesivir.

"Why do I have to prove that there’s something wrong with me in order for my pain to be treated," Moore wrote on her Facebook post.

After receiving two transfusions of remdesivir, Dr. Moore asked for a third because she was in so much pain. But, the white doctor on her case denied her request. Moore said the doctor claimed he didn't feel "comfortable" giving her any more narcotics. The doctor even tried to send her home after she complained of excruciating neck pain.

"I was crushed. He made me feel like I was a drug addict, and he knew I was a physician," Dr. Moore said in a Facebook video posted on Dec. 4 from her hospital bed. "I don't take narcotics."

After speaking with a patient advocate, Moore said she asked to be moved to another hospital.

"If they're not going to treat me here properly, send me to another hospital," she claimed. "Next thing I know, I'm getting a stat CT of my neck with and without contrast."

The CT showed that Moore's pain was coming from new pulmonary infiltrates in her lungs and pleural effusion, according to Moore. The hospital staff said they would then treat Moore's pain.

"I put forward and I maintain if I was white I wouldn't have to go through that," Moore stated. "And that man never came back and apologized."

According to Moore, she continued to wait for hours to get the pain medicine that IU North said they would give her. When she complained to nurses, they fired back, allegedly claiming they "have more patients than you, you know?"

"This is how Black people get killed. When you send them home and they don't know how to fight for themselves," Moore said toward the end of the video. "Being Black up in here, this is what happens."

After talking further with IU Healthcare's chief medical officer, Moore updated that she received much better treatment. She was still sent home, but less than 12 hours later, she was back in the hospital. This time, she went to St. Vincent Hospital in Carmel, where she said, "I am getting very compassionate care. They are offering me pain medicine."

"Those people were trying to kill me. Clearly, everyone has to agree they discharge me way too soon," Moore wrote.

The 54-year-old's seventh and final update said, "On (BiPAP) being transferred to ICU."

Moore leaves her parents, both suffering from dementia, and her 19-year-old son, Henry Muhammed. After graduating from Carmel High School last year, Muhammed enrolled at Indiana University at Bloomington. But, after his grandparents and mother fell ill, he had to put his schooling aside to aide them.

His former high school coach, Rashad Elby, wrote this about Muhammed:

"For those of you not familiar with Henry and his struggles, he is a young man whose life to date is best summed as a story of obstacles, perseverance, and triumph. Through Henry’s tenure at Carmel High School, he faced many unforeseen adversities that were out of his control."

Elby and another local physician close to Dr. Moore created a GoFundMe fundraiser on Wednesday for Muhammed, who is currently one of the only few left caring for his grandparents. The fund has almost raised $90,000 from supporters across the country.

"Henry greatly appreciates the outpouring of love from supporters near and far," Elby wrote as an update on the GoFundMe page.

In a statement provided to WRTV, an IU Health spokesperson said:

We were very sad to hear of the passing of Dr. Susan Moore and our hearts go out to her family.
IU Health respects and upholds patient privacy and cannot comment on a specific patient, their medical history or conditions. As an organization committed to equity and reducing racial disparities in healthcare, we take accusations of discrimination very seriously and investigate every allegation.
Treatment options are often agreed upon and reviewed by medical experts from a variety of specialties, and we stand by the commitment and expertise of our caregivers and the quality of care delivered to our patients every day.

The COVID-19 pandemic has all but heightened the evident disparity of health care equality in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black and Latino's patients are two to three times as likely as white patients to be diagnosed with COVID-19 and more than four times as likely to be hospitalized for it.

Since the passing of Moore, Black physicians, and healthcare workers have renewed calls for America to grapple with the unfair treatment of Black patients.

STATEMENT: IU Health President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Murphy issued this statement Thursday evening:

Like many others, I have watched the video of Dr. Susan Moore that she posted from her bed at our hospital. I am deeply saddened by her death and the loss her family is feeling. Our hearts are with Dr. Moore’s family and friends.

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. 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.

After our preliminary medical quality review, I am fully confident in our medical team and their expertise to treat complex medical cases. I do not believe that we failed the technical aspects of the delivery of Dr. Moore’s care. 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.

There is still much that we need to learn through an internal review. Additionally, I am asking for an external review of this case. We will have a diverse panel of healthcare and diversity experts conduct a thorough medical review of Dr. Moore’s concerns to address any potential treatment bias. The construct of this review is to understand how we improve on not only the technical aspects of care but also the more humanistic elements of the patient experience. The external review also can illuminate ways that we as a system can ensure we live up to our commitment to the equitable treatment of all patients.

Over the last several years, I have pledged to promote racial justice and resist discrimination of any kind at IU Health. My commitment to this pledge is reinforced as I repeatedly think about Dr. Moore’s voice. I also have listened to the voices and experiences of our team members and patients of color over the past year. They have shared experiences of discrimination by patients, families, and colleagues. They also shared their hopes for how IU Health could model for others how to be a more diverse, inclusive, and just organization. Dr. Moore’s public sharing of her experience is a sentinel moment to accelerate our forward movement. This tragedy will not become a statistic in the COVID-19 crisis and it will serve as a marker of material improvements for patients of color.

Our organization is committed to equity. We know the work before us and will continue to seek regular improvements to what has been a long-standing societal issue. We will focus on enhancing a culture of inclusion that seeks, welcomes, and values all people. We will transform our organization to be more diverse, equitable, and anti-discriminatory. And we will build meaningful and sustained partnerships to promote healthcare equity and reduce healthcare disparities, impact social determinants of health, and build more inclusive communities throughout the state.

None of this work was ever imagined to be easy or without visible signs of failure. The key is to learn meaningfully from each interaction and, ultimately, get better every step of the way. Dr. Moore’s words and the image will stay with me every day and fuel my motivation to ensure that this organization becomes truly equitable in all dimensions. I hope it serves as a collective call to action.

Respectfully,

Dennis M. Murphy

President and Chief Executive Officer

This story was first reported by Shakkira Harris at WRTV in Indianapolis, Indiana.