Justin L. Mack
| Indianapolis Star
How systemic racism led to COVID-19’s rapid spread among people of color
Racist policies have led to COVID-19 being more dangerous and deadly for Black, Latino, Asian and Indigenous Americans than for white Americans.
Patrick Shannahan, USA TODAY
The leader of an Indiana health care system, which stands accused of treating a Black doctor battling coronavirus poorly because of the color of her skin, is calling for an external review of the case.
On Thursday night, IU Health President and CEO Dennis Murphy issued a statement directly addressing the care provided to Dr. Susan Moore at IU Health North in Carmel after she was admitted to the hospital earlier this month.
Moore, 52, died Dec. 20 following multiple hospitalizations for complications from COVID-19, first at IU Health North and later at Ascension-St. Vincent.
She shared her frustrations with the care provided at IU Health with the world via Facebook. The first post came Dec. 4 when she said delays in her treatment and diagnosis were motivated by her race.
She said her complaints of neck pain and trouble breathing were disregarded by her white physician, and said that she was shown no respect as a fellow member of the medical community before being prematurely discharged.
“I put forth and I maintain,” she said in the video, “if I was white, I wouldn’t have to go through that.”
Murphy said following preliminary medical quality review, he does not believe that his team failed the technical aspects of the delivery of 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,” he said. “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.”
As a result, he wants the case investigated externally by a diverse panel of healthcare and diversity experts 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,” Murphy said in a statement. “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.”
Shortly after being discharged from IU Health on Dec. 7, Moore said she experienced a spike in temperature and a drop in her blood pressure. She was then taken to Ascension-St. Vincent in Carmel where she said she was pleased with her care.
But Moore’s condition continued to deteriorate. She died in the hospital three weeks after her Nov. 29 diagnosis.
Murphy, like many others, watched Moore’s 7 ½-minute Facebook video. He said he is deeply saddened by her death and the loss her family is feeling.
“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,” Murphy said in the statement.
Murphy said he also saw several human perspectives in Moore’s statements, including that of physicians trying to manage the care of a complex patient in the midst of a pandemic crisis, 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,” Murphy said. “These factors make this loss doubly distressing.”
Murphy added that he has long pledged to promote racial justice and resist discrimination of any kind at IU Health, and Moore’s experience reinforces his commitment to that pledge.
“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,” he said. “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.”
In the wake of Moore’s death, a GoFundMe effort has been started in support of her family.
As of Friday morning, the page has generated more than $134,000.
Moore’s family told the New York Times that she was Born in Jamaica but grew up in Michigan. She studied engineering at Kettering University and earned her medical degree from the University of Michigan Medical School, according to her family.
She is survived by her 19-year-old son and recent Carmel High School graduate, Henry Muhammed, and two elderly parents who suffer from dementia.
Call IndyStar reporter Justin L. Mack at 317-444-6138. Follow him on Twitter: @justinlmack.