A Black doctor died from COVID-19 after she posted a video from her hospital bed saying she was being mistreated: 'This is how Black people get killed'

Anna Medaris Miller
Dr. Susan Moore
Dr. Susan Moore posted about her experience from her hospital bed. Dr. Susan Moore/Facebook
  • Dr. Susan Moore, a Black physician in Indianapolis, died on Sunday from COVID-19 after saying she was mistreated because of her race.

  • Moore said that her pain was acknowledged only when scans confirmed worsening lung complications and that she was discharged too early. "Those people were trying to kill me," she said.

  • Physicians were gutted and outraged by Moore's account. They said a racist system was complicit in her death.

  • Research has found that Black people are more likely to get COVID-19 and to experience serious complications and death from it and that their pain is often assessed and managed differently than white patients.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Dr. Susan Moore was in pain.

The 54-year-old in Indianapolis had been diagnosed with COVID-19, hospitalized, and given two rounds of remdesivir, a drug that's been found to speed up the recovery of hospitalized coronavirus patients.

But in a video Moore posted on Facebook on December 4, almost a week after her diagnosis, she said she wasn't getting better. She had difficulty breathing.

Moore said she was being neglected and mistreated, and she suspected it was because of her race. Her doctor, she said, would not give her another round of remdesivir or narcotics, telling her that she didn't qualify for the former and that he didn't feel comfortable giving her the latter. He told her she "should just go home right now," Moore said.

"I was in so much pain from my neck. My neck hurt so bad. I was crushed," she said. She added that the doctor "made me feel like I was a drug addict, and he knew I was a physician."

"This is how Black people get killed," Moore said. "When you send them home and they don't know how to fight for themselves."

That's just a fraction of what Moore shared of her experience as a Black patient with COVID-19, a disease that has disproportionately infected and killed people of color. She died on Sunday.

Moore's story - of a physician who knew what her scans and symptoms meant, of a single mom who spoke up for herself, and of a Black person who felt dismissed - sparked heartbreak and anger on social media, where physicians and advocates said a racist healthcare system shouldered the blame.

"COVID took Dr Susan Moore," said Dr. Carmen Brown, an OB-GYN and advocate for health equity. "The system was complicit in her demise."

A public-relations manager for Indiana University Health System, where Moore was treated, said that the hospital could not comment on a specific patient but that "as an organization committed to equity and reducing racial disparities in healthcare, we take accusations of discrimination very seriously and investigate every allegation."

The doctor Moore said mistreated her did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Moore advocated for herself, even going to the hospital system's chief medical officer. 'If I was white, I wouldn't have to go through that,' she said.

In her video, which has been shared more than 2,000 times, Moore said that after she was denied pain medication, she enlisted a patient advocate, who told her there wasn't much they could do. Moore asked to be transferred to a different hospital, which she wasn't.

Only when a scan of her neck showed new inflammation and substance buildup in her lungs did the clinicians offer her pain medication, Moore said.

"You have to show proof that you have something wrong with you in order for you to get the medicine," she said. "I put forth and I maintain: If I was white, I wouldn't have to go through that."

Soon, though, Moore's care improved, she wrote on Facebook. She was cared for by a Black tech and a Black nurse, and she talked to the chief medical officer of the health system, who assured her that she'd get "the best care possible" and that diversity training for staff was underway, she said. Her pain and breathing were well managed, and she was discharged.

Less than 12 hours later, Moore developed a serious fever, low blood pressure, and a rapid heart rate. She went to a different hospital, where she was treated for pneumonia and received "very compassionate care," she wrote.

"Those people were trying to kill me," she said of her treatment at the previous hospital. "Clearly everyone has to agree they discharge me way too soon."

The Indiana University Health System representative told Insider: "Treatment options are often agreed upon and reviewed by medical experts from a variety of specialties, and we stand by the commitment and expertise of our caregivers and the quality of care delivered to our patients every day."

Moore's last Facebook update said she was on a breathing machine in the new hospital and was being transferred to the intensive-care unit.

She's survived by her parents, both of whom have dementia, and her 19-year-old son, a GoFundMe page says.

"There are so many heartbreaking parts of Dr. Moore's story, but what makes it even more devastating is that she did everything in her power to advocate for herself - she spoke up, she asked for a patient advocate, she asked her fellow physicians for advice, she went to hospital leadership," Dr. Jasmine Johnson, a maternal-fetal-medicine doctor and women's-health advocate, told Insider.

"It should not be the patient's responsibility to make sure that they are given respectful care."

Research shows Black patients' pain is assessed and treated differently

Black people are about twice as likely to contract COVID-19 as white people, and they're also at a higher risk of hospitalization and death from the illness.

That's not because they have higher rates of preexisting conditions like diabetes, asthma, lung disease, hypertension, and obesity - it's because people of color are "far more often subjected to health-affecting hardships" than white people, Insider's Hilary Brueck and Canela Lopez reported.

They cited one study that found that "structural factors including health care access, density of households, unemployment and types of employment, pervasive discrimination and others" were what's driving COVID-19 disparities and "not intrinsic characteristics of black or Latinx communities or individual-level factors."

Research has also found that clinicians tend to treat Black people differently when it comes to assessing and managing their pain, as Moore said she experienced. In one 2016 study, about 50% of white medical students and residents surveyed said they held the false belief that Black people experience pain differently than white people, leading to inappropriate treatment.

Other research in postpartum women has found that after a routine Cesarean delivery, Black patients are less likely to be given pain medicine than white patients. Black patients' pain is also less likely to be evaluated, and, when it is, the nursing staff is less likely to give them medication, even when they report more pain than white patients.

"To this day, Black people are less likely to get the same treatment in terms of pain medication. They're more likely to wait longer in the emergency room. They're less likely to be taken seriously. It's a holdover from the days of slavery," Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, an OB-GYN, said on TikTok in response to the death on July 11 of Nicole Thea, a London social-media star who was eight months pregnant.

Moore's story illustrates what systemic racism looks like  

Moore's story is yet another wake-up call in a year that demanded that Americans, including those in the healthcare system, value Black lives.

Johnson said she'd tell fellow healthcare professionals to "educate yourself on present-day health disparities, race as a social determinant of health, and what medical racism looks like so that you are better equipped to recognize it and call it out."

"There is no neutral anymore - either you are being complicit in a racist system, or you are working to tear it down."

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