The simple truth is that the healthcare system in the United States is biased against black patients. Numerous studies, some of which have been the subject of posts on this blog, reveal this bias. But, let’s face it, many people are unaware of this bias, and many people who are aware don’t regard eliminating the bias as a priority. Look no further than a recent leaked video call between Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and civil rights leaders: in the 100-minute call, there was not a single specific mention of racial bias in the healthcare system.
If–during the darkest days of a global health crisis–neither civil rights leaders, nor the black vice president elect, nor the Democratic president-elect mention racial bias in the healthcare system, are these biases really that significant?
They are! A tearjerker of an article in The New York Times¸ “Black Doctor Dies of Covid-19 After Complaining of Racist Treatment,”makes this answer plenty clear.
The article tells the story of a 52-year-old, black patient fighting coronavirus. From her hospital bed, the patient, with oxygen tubes going into her nose and teary eyes, held her smartphone and hit record. In the video, the patient relayed an experience that many black Americans may find as relatable as being mistreated by the police: she relayed her dissatisfaction with the medical treatment she was receiving.
But hang on a minute. This was not an ordinary patient. What separated this patient from most is that she herself was a medical doctor.
In the video, which went viral after she posted it to Facebook, Dr. Susan Moore said, among other things, that a white doctor at the hospital had downplayed her complaints of pain. He told her that he felt uncomfortable giving her more narcotics to treat her pain and suggested that she would be discharged from the hospital. She said, in the video, “I was crushed.” She continued, “He made me feel like I was a drug addict.” She did not get the treatment and the respect she said she deserved.
Did her race have anything to do with it? Mountains of research articles indicate that black patients often receive treatment inferior to their white counterparts, especially when it comes to pain management. In her video, Dr. Moore addressed the question plainly: “I put forth and I maintain if I was white, I wouldn’t have to go through [hoops to get pain medicine].”
But go through it, she did–until she made a viral video. After making the video complaining of the medical treatment, Dr. Moore received care that she said “adequately treated” her pain, and she was eventually sent home.
A little more than two weeks after she posted the video–and just a few days before Christmas– she died. According to her 19-year-old son, she died of complications from coronavirus.
What’s the bottom line?
Until we make it a priority to wrestle with racial bias in medical treatment so many of us and our loved ones will needlessly suffer and needlessly die.
What Can Be Done to Improve Healthcare for Blacks in America
There are many things we can do. From my perspective as an attorney, I’ll mention two.
First, we can and should hold treating doctors accountable. All too often people who are injured by doctors never seek the help of an attorney. Suing a doctor for his or her negligence is about putting justice into business and improving healthcare.
Second, we should urge civil rights organizations, like the NAACP, to push lawmakers–especially those in blue states–to fix medical malpractice laws. For example, in Maryland, lawmakers should lengthen the applicable statute of limitations and eliminate the cap on damages for pain and suffering.
It’s crucial to remember that when black people lose their lives, or limbs, or organs, or loved ones because of racial bias in healthcare and then the law limits their ability to sue and recover substantial damages for the loss, that’s a civil rights issue.