I’m just going to come out and say it: Black people keep dying in the care of institutions of power and influence because these power structures (or the people within them) experience no significant penalty for killing us.
It’s the reason why we keep seeing police officers shoot an unarmed man in the back on a Tuesday, and walking the streets of Anytown, USA 30 days later.
It’s the reason why we keep seeing Black women dying shortly after engaging with the health care system in any meaningful way.
And it’s also the reason why Dr. Susan Moore is no longer with us.
Dr. Moore, a Black woman and mother to a teenaged college student who just graduated from my high school alma mater, ran a private primary care practice in Carmel, Indiana, when she went to the hospital specifically for complications associated with COVID-19. She remained at the hospital under the care of a doctor she identifies as Dr. Eric Bannec (his research record), who refused to offer her both the treatment for the COVID she obviously tested positive for, and the pain she reported.
Throughout her time in the hospital she documented her treatment on a FB post, her own recommendations for her care, and what the doctor’s responses were. She documented how she was sent home despite not being in a condition where this decision was safe. Within hours of returning home, she was admitted to the ER of a second hospital, where she could not be saved.
She looked into the camera, hardly able to get through more than four words without pausing, and told us, “He told me, ‘You don’t qualify… you should just go home right now.'”
Dr. Moore says, righteously, “I maintain… that if I was white… I would not have had to go through that.”
This is a woman who took the energy and time to document her care in the hopes that someone would be penalized for what she knew was coming.
In a statement written by the hospital system’s CEO, Dennis Murphy, Dr. Moore was called a “complex” patient”who “intimidated” the staff. He went on to declare, “I do not believe that we failed the technical aspects of her care,” because somehow death is not indicative of a hospital’s failure to provide care.
What happens to the doctor who very clearly ignored her request for pain relief? I’m from Indiana—they’ve been prescribing pills indiscriminately for years for profit, but now all of a sudden doctors have consciences and want to second guess prescribing something? Why am I supposed to believe that this was merely about concern about addiction, instead of wanting to force a Black woman, his professional peer, into submission? Or worse—watch her writhe in pain, as if it isn’t possible to prescribe a non-habit forming medication?
Why does this monster still have a job? Why would an institution put their name behind defending him?
Because we have not reached enough of a point where racism causes a penalty. Are people losing their jobs? Are people losing their wealth? Are they losing their hard-earned licenses?
Is the hospital system being penalized in any way for this loss of life, especially in this way? Are their donors backing out? Are they losing patients, sponsorships, partnerships?
Are the other doctors speaking out? No? Is it because they’re being written up for doing so? Are hospitals penalized for doing that?
We have not reached a point in this society where enough people care about the harm done to Black people, because there is still no empathy for Black people. If you don’t see us as people whose shoes you could some day find yourself in, you do not feel there is a wrong to be righted. If you don’t feel that we are people who experience pain, you don’t feel as if there is a person standing before you who deserves help.
When I wrote about getting Black people to trust the health care system again, to trust doctors and science again after a legacy of horrific treatment, I said it clearly:
Changing this climate of conspiracy and mistrust […] requires regulation that penalizes those who violate our rights to consent to care, and significant punitive restitution be paid to those who have suffered… and media has to uncover and report it when it happens. We have to see that people care about us enough to protect us preemptively from harm, and that those who are hellbent on harming us will actually be forced to suffer a consequence and pay restitution.
There are endless situations in America where harm is committed against people, and that harm continues because the benefits still outweigh the penalties. In health care in America, the more frequently a Black woman engages with the medical industry, the more likely her death will come sooner than it should. Her doctors will almost certainly dismiss her pain. She will be gaslit into believing it is less serious than it is, and will be sent home and told to ignore it instead of being given the tools to self-assess. And because of it, she will be unable to fight for the most valuable thing she could ever have—her life.
And the health care system just continues to roll on, as if this pattern isn’t real and horrifying, as if there’s simply nothing to be done.
If you read the comments on posts about Dr. Moore, you’ll be inundated with comments about how white people go through th—listen. I don’t want to hear the minimizing of the experiences of Black women in the comments section where we discuss the loss of a Black woman. That is not solidarity. I want to hear “I am so angry this is still happening, we really need a change in our health care system.” I want you to do something about it.
If medicine is solely going to be about the money, then it’s time people start losing their money when they commit injustices against Black people. If the horrific, egregious treatment of this woman does not warrant the firing of this… this doctor, then what does?