Black physician’s death highlights ‘horrific’ history of medical racism

In early December 2020, Dr. Susan Moore, a Black physician, posted a Facebook video from her hospital bed in Indianapolis while fighting COVID-19. Moore said that the doctor treating her had downplayed her complaints of pain, refused to prescribe her painkillers and suggested she be sent home. Moore said in the video, “I put forth and I maintain: If I was white, I wouldn’t have to go through that.” She was eventually sent home and died weeks later of COVID-19 complications. Dr. Uché Blackstock, Yahoo News Medical Contributor and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, looks at why racism still persists in the U.S. health care system and what needs to change.

Video Transcript

SUSAN MOORE: This is the second worst day here at IU North.


I was in so much pain from my neck. My neck hurts so bad. I was crushed. He made me feel like I was a drug addict, and he knew I was a physician.

You have to show proof that you have something wrong with you in order for you to get the medicine. I put forward and I maintain if I was white, I wouldn't have to go through that.

UCHE BLACKSTOCK: I think for Dr. Susan Moore, the reason why her case has become as-- was elevated the way that it was because she's a physician, but it shows that our education cannot even protect us from racism.

What's even interesting is that we see it among Black people who are affluent and famous. Like Serena Williams, who's talked about her own story of this is someone who obviously knows her body well. She's a professional athlete. She's of means. She's a millionaire. But she also talks about postpartum after her pregnancy, having these symptoms that soon was diagnosed as a blood clot in the lung, but feeling like the medical staff did not listen to her.

And I think what we see today is that, like every other social institution in this country, we have not reconciled with this racist past. And additionally, even in medical schools today, often race-based medicine is practiced. Students receive instruction about that there are differences based on race in the function of the kidneys.

When you go to hospitals and you look in the electronic medical records system, many hospitals, some are actually getting rid of this, fortunately, but there are just different normal ranges for Black patients and non-Black patients. And so, I think that it's this idea that we have not faced the past, but we also continue to perpetuate these racist notions to the point where it's well documented that Black patients, routinely their pain is undertreated-- underappreciated and undertreated. And this is, of course, what happens in a society that values Black lives and Black bodies.

I also think that this is an opportunity to reflect on how deeply systemic and embedded racism is, and that just a review is going to be inadequate. Any training of staff and faculty is going to be inadequate. This needs to be a top-down approach, looking at everything within the system using a lens of racial equity.

So down from how the CEO functions, how they choose people for the board of the hospital, how they recruit faculty. Then, also looking at patient outcomes disaggregated by race and really prioritizing racial equity and anti-racism work, not just in a performative way, but in a way that we actually will see that work in the outcomes-- in health outcomes of patients.