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“That’s how blacks kill.”
These are some of the last words of Dr. Susan Moore, a family doctor in Carmel, Indiana, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 on November 29, but even her medical training could not spare her what she believes is the systemic racism she suffered while fighting for her life at University Medical Hospital Indiana in Indianapolis. She died last Sunday
at 52 years of age.
A Jamaican immigrant who came to the United States with her family in the early 1970s, Moore was an industrial engineer at 3M for nearly ten years before enrolling at the University of Michigan Medical School, where her family says she was an honorary student. A colleague from medical school remembered her as “kind, diligent, brilliant and generous.”
Moore’s single mother was the only support from her two parents who suffered from dementia and who lived with her and her 19-year-old son Henry Muhammed, a freshman who studied engineering at Indiana University. Friends, like Kimberly Knox, who has known Moore since her student days, said she was a phenomenal doctor who loved to practice medicine and help people. “She was a very studious, caring person,” Knox said. “She just shone when she talked about medicine, about her son and about her parents. And she always stood up for her patients and made sure they got the right care.”
Moore said her treatment at the hospital had deteriorated so much that she posted a video on Facebook in early December asking fellow doctors to help save her. Sitting in a hospital bed with a nasal cannula in her nose, she cataloged a long litany of complaints about the poor care she received. And because she was a doctor, she was he knew better.
She had to pray for remdesivir, an antiviral drug used to fight COVID-19, because her doctor initially claimed she did not qualify for more than two doses of the drug. “She knew that two doses were not enough to treat her,” said Dr. Linda Burke, a doctor from Orlando, Florida, who is in a private Facebook group with some of Moore’s colleagues. “The fact that she had to advocate for it is shameful.”
In the video, Moore said that her doctor also refused to give her narcotic painkillers, despite her excruciating pain; she remarked, “all I could do was cry.” When a subsequent CT scan revealed fluid and new clots in her lungs and swollen lymph nodes in her neck, he finally relented, but it took another 5 hours before she got any relief. “He felt like I was a drug addict and he knew I was a doctor. Why do I have to prove something is wrong with me to treat my pain?” she asked sadly in the video. “If I were white, I wouldn’t have to go through that.”
The evidence suggests that Moore’s anger was justified. Studies, including a 2016 study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, consistently show that black patients are half as likely as their white counterparts to receive prescriptions for painkillers.
Moore was worried the video release would come back, but she was pleasantly surprised by the hospital’s response, according to Knox. From her hospital bed, Moore managed to stand up for herself and climbed the chain of command to file a complaint to the chief medical officer of the IU health system. He assured her that her concerns would be addressed, that diversity training would be held, and that hospital administrators were working to get an apology from the doctor he believed had treated her so badly.
Moore’s care improved, and she was subsequently discharged from the hospital. “She just didn’t want to be in that hospital,” Knox said. But less than 12 hours later, her condition quickly deteriorated – her temperature jumped to 103.4 F (39.4 ° C), her blood pressure dropped to 80/60, and her heart was beating at 132 beats per minute. “These people were trying to kill me,” Moore later remarked in a Facebook article about staff at IU Health. “Clearly everyone agreed they fired me too soon.”
She reported to another nearby hospital, St. Louis Medical Center. Vincent (where is, as Medscape Medical News previously reported, black pediatrician Chaniece Wallace died in childbirth in October). Moore developed bacterial pneumonia as well as COVID-19 pneumonia, and her last entry on Facebook indicated that she had been transferred to JIL, where she remained on ventilator for 10 days. She died early on the morning of December 20th. Her son Henry, who was allowed to be in intensive care, was by the bed.
An IU Health spokesman said they were sad to hear of Moore’s death, but could not comment on a particular patient. “As an organization that advocates for fairness and the reduction of racial differences in health care, we take allegations of discrimination very seriously and investigate all allegations,” a hospital spokesman said. Yet, “we remain committed to both the expertise of our caregivers and the quality of care provided to our patients on a daily basis.”
Would Susan Moore still be alive if she had had a different kind of care? That is difficult to answer. But Black Americans are infected with COVID-19 nearly three times more than white Americans and are twice as likely to die from the virus, according to a August 2020 National Urban League report based on data from Johns Hopkins University.
“Delays in her treatment and inappropriate dismissal because she was so frustrated,” Burke said, “could have significantly affected her outcome.”
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