The Convo We Should Be Having About Dr. Susan Moore's Tragic Death

by Nikkya Hargrove
Originally Published: 
Susan Moore/Facebook

If we’ve not caught COVID-19, we wonder what would happen if we did. If we’ve caught it, our stories may differ in how we describe the care we were given. Or if we were even offered a test, no matter the tell-tale symptoms we had, all pointing to a probable COVID-19 diagnosis.

In the early months of the pandemic, March through May, hospitals told many patients that they didn’t have enough tests and that they’d just need to wait out their symptoms. The advice: if your symptoms get worse, come back and we will test you — a promise not many saw come to life, including me. In March, I had all of the symptoms that pointed to a diagnosis of COVID-19: rising fever, cough, chills, body aches, and I commuted from my home in Connecticut to New York City, a risk to catch the virus in and of itself. At the time, New York and the metro area were the epicenters of the pandemic. At home were my three kids and my wife, a hospital chaplain, who ran the risk of infecting her patients if we did not quarantine at home properly as instructed by the ER doctor I saw.

What I felt while sitting in that emergency room bed was frustration, rejection, and fear, as a Black woman who was being refused care — perhaps because of lack of test or a bigger, equally scary issue — racism.

Days before Christmas, on December 20th, Dr. Susan Moore died in a hospital in Indiana due to — as she noted in her now-viral Facebook video — a long-held practice within the medical field of dismissing the symptoms of Black people, particularly Black women. Dr. Susan Moore, a general physician, lost her life due to being dismissed by the very people charged with keeping her alive: doctors and nurses within the IU Health System. Her requests for pain relief medications, tests like CT Scans, and even a request to be moved from one hospital to another went unheard.

Racial bias within the medical field has long been something that Black people know of, feel, suffer needlessly, and die because of. The treatment Dr. Moore received while in the care of professionals who couldn’t leave their biases at the door failed her, but what her death — and perhaps what this entire year — has reminded us, is that Black people need to fight for their lives, even while on their deathbeds.

In a New York Times report called Bad Medicine: The Harm That Comes From Racism, author Austin Frakt states, “African-American patients tend to receive lower-quality health services, including for cancer, H.I.V., prenatal care and preventive care, vast research shows. They are also less likely to receive treatment for cardiovascular disease, and they are more likely to have unnecessary limb amputations.” Our lives are being devalued, and the instances of being refused care or our requests ignored by medical professionals have all shown light on the realities faced by millions of Black Americans – even celebrities.

In an anthem that has become the battle cry for us as Black people, one that caused months of protests and a reckoning with white people across the country, the words “I can’t breathe” made us angry as we watched George Floyd’s murder on video in May. In 2017, those words were spoken by mom, wife, and tennis superstar Serena Williams, after the birth of her daughter, Alexis, when her calls fell on deaf ears – prompting her to invest in Mahmee, a health tech company focused on bringing an end to the maternal mortality crisis among Black women in the U.S. (Black women are three times more likely to die during childbirth, a study of moms in California finds). Three powerful words, words that signal a knowing, a deep feeling, that your life is coming to an end, that death is imminent, is petrifying.

When those words are spoken in such desperation, to go unheard is an act of medical malpractice, a medical complacency, or racist ideals that have been the driving force behind a healthcare system never set up to protect us anyway. Dr. Moore’s death shows us that our lives don’t matter; our calls for help go unheard and that when we are at our most vulnerable, sitting or lying or dying from a disease like COVID-19, we must still fight.

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Journalist Jeneen Interlandi notes, “One hundred and fifty years after the freed people of the South first petitioned the government for basic medical care, the United States remains the only high-income country in the world where such care is not guaranteed to every citizen,” and we are no closer to having a government, a country of people who want to provide basic rights to us. There are some who believe that Black people die at greater rates from COVID-19 because they also have underlying issues like heart disease, diabetes, and asthma. But these facts — that underlying health issues within the Black community can attribute to our premature deaths during COVID-19 — are not the entire story.

With over 336,000 people in the United States who have lost their lives to COVID-19 to date this year, Dr. Moore should not have been one of them. Her access to medications and care that could have saved her life, like Remdesivir and ventilators, were housed in the same hospital she was in. She was denied care, access, and human rights to keep her alive.

When our lives are held in the balance and the care of medical professionals, words like “abuse” and “neglect” have no place in the hospital setting. Dr. Moore’s death should infuriate us all. It should make us angry, scared, and worried about what will happen to us if we are taken to the hospital as Black people. Dr. Moore’s 19-year-old son had to prepare to bury his mother, just months after graduating from high school, and now must live the rest of his life knowing that his mother could have had a greater chance at life if she had been heard, valued, and respected.

We should not have to navigate another person’s racist beliefs when all we need is care, compassion, and to be heard when we need it the most. We do not need to die from a disease, from malpractice, from incompetency, especially when we know racial biases exist. We need equality, especially from our healthcare professionals when we are in their care. Even I, a Black, educated mother of three have some level of fear every time I must go to the hospital, or get behind the wheel of my car, or go into the grocery store. Being an educated professional didn’t help Dr. Moore. What if I don’t return home to my family because of another person’s racist ignorance? I am afraid that I will live with the “what if’s” of society for decades to come.

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