The president and CEO of an Indiana Hospital are under fire for releasing what medical professionals and health care advocates describe as a “blame the victim” statement about a Black physician who recently died of Covid-19 after alleging she was mistreated by a doctor and nurses at his medical facility because of the color of her skin.
Indiana University Hospital president and CEO Dennis M. Murphy described Dr. Susan Moore in a press release as a “complex patient” and said that during her stay at the IU Health North facility in Carmel, Indiana, the nursing staff who treated her “may have been intimidated by a knowledgable patient who was using social media to voice her concerns and critique the care they were delivering.”
19-year-old Henry Muhammed, Moore’s son, told ABC News that Moore died at another hospital that she went to a day after being discharged from IU Health North.
Before being sent home, Moore recorded and posted a scathing review of the treatment she received at IU Health North. In the video on Facebook, she says, “I put forth, and I maintain, if I was white, I wouldn’t have to go through that.” She claimed that the doctor treating her continued to ignore her complaints of being in excruciating pain and wanted to send her home. The doctor initially told her he felt uncomfortable giving her painkillers and made her “feel like a drug addict,” she said on social media.
On December 4, she posted on her Facebook page from her hospital bed at IU Health North. She said, “This is how Black people get killed. When you send them home, and they don’t know how to fight for themselves.” She said, “I had to talk to somebody, maybe the media, to let people know how I’m being treated up in this place.”
On Wednesday, her son Muhammed told ABC News in a telephone interview that his mother knew her own medical history better than anyone else and should have been seen as an asset to the medical team and not as a sign of intimidation.
He said, “I don’t understand how knowing your medical history is intimidating to a nurse or hospital staff.”
Other than a chaplain from the IU Health system reaching out to him, no officials from the medical center have contacted him to apologize or express remorse.
In his statement, Murphy said he is “deeply saddened by her death and the loss her family is feeling.”
“I am even more saddened by the experience she described in the video,” Murphy wrote. “It hurt me personally to see a patient reach out via social media because they felt their care was inadequate, and their personal needs were not being heard.”
Murphy promised to assemble a diverse panel of health care and diversity experts to conduct an external medical review of Moore’s concerns “to address any potential treatment bias.” At the same time, he appeared to defend the hospital staff that treated Moore.
He said, “I do not believe that we failed the technical aspects of the delivery of Dr. Moore’s care.” He explained, “I am concerned, however, that we may not have shown the level of compassion and respect we strive for in understanding what matters most to patients. I am worried that our care team did not have the time due to the burden of this pandemic to hear and understand patient concerns and questions.”
Muhammed said he and his family have been speaking with lawyers about their recourse options but have not yet decided whether to take legal action against IU Health.
“I hope they do an honest, unbiased investigation,” he said of the hospital. “But I can only hope for that. I don’t know if they will.”
Muhammed said that his mother had tested positive for Covid-19 on On Nov. 29 and went to IU Health North because she had been to the hospital before since it was so close to her home.
He said that when his mother was discharged from IU Health North on Dec. 7, she wasn’t even home for more than 12 hours before he had to call the ambulance to rush her to a different hospital.
Moore wrote on her Facebook page that she had been admitted to Ascension St. Vincent Hospital in Carmel. Her temperature had spiked to 103 degrees, and her blood pressure fell to 80/60; normal blood pressure is usually 120/80.
Over a short period of time, her health continued to deteriorate, and she was placed on a ventilator. On Dec. 20, she died of complications from Covid-19.
This unfortunate ordeal has left public health advocates, and medical providers disappointed in Murphy’s statement and prompted many of them to vent their outrage on social media.
In Maryland, Dr. Theresa Chapple, a Black physician, and public health advocate wrote on Twitter that she felt “gaslit” after reading Murphy’s statement.
On Wednesday, Chapple told ABC News, “It is so utterly ridiculous and also something that Black people have been going through for quite some time in this country, and that includes Black doctors.” She said, “We have gone through this when we try to advocate for ourselves when we try to advocate for our children. We’re dismissed. We’re seen as angry, or upset, or volatile. Intimidating is a new one that I hadn’t heard before reading this.”
Chapple said her work is focused on maternal mortality and trying to prevent Black women from dying as a result of giving birth.
She said, “One of the ways that we tell women that they can do to help address that is to advocate for themselves or to have an advocate there with them. So to now take this tried-and-true approach that we know helps in certain circumstances and be able to clearly see that it does not help when you’re Black and educated, it’s really a slap in the face,” adding “What else can you do to save your own life?”
Christie VanHorne, a public health advocate from New York whose company, CVH Consulting, works to improve communication between patients and medical providers, said she felt so angered by Murphy’s response that she wrote IU Health a message complaining that the hospital was “victim-blaming” Moore for the alleged inadequate care she received.
“It’s honestly a disgrace to the medical profession that they would blame the victim and the nursing team,” VanHorne told ABC News on Wednesday. “To say that the nurses were intimidated by the patient, it’s absolutely ridiculous when she was just trying to advocate for herself.”
Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, a Black adjunct associate professor at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta and former president of the American Public Health Association, and three of her medical profession colleagues wrote an op-ed piece on Moore’s case that was published in the Washington Post on Saturday saying Moore’s experience is more “confirmation” of racial inequities in the nation’s health care system that have risen to the surface during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It read: “That system has a name: racism. No matter how well-intentioned our health care system is, it has not rooted out the false idea of a hierarchy of human valuation based on skin color and the false idea that, if there were such a hierarchy, ‘White’ people would be at the top.”
Black people have also been disproportionately affected and have died from coronavirus more than their white counterparts. A study published earlier this year by the Brookings Institution found that the COVID-19 mortality rate for black people was 3.6 times the rate of white people.
In April, an ABC News report found that black people are twice as likely to die of the disease in coronavirus hot spots as their white counterparts.
Jones told ABC News, “Dr. Moore knew that she was being mistreated. She knew she was being mistreated because she knew what she was supposed to be getting. So that makes her voice even more powerful when she was calling them out.”
Jones said IU Health has to acknowledge that systemic racism exists in its system before it can fix the problem.
“It’s not on one individual nurse to fix themselves or one individual doctor to fix themselves,” Jones said. “You have to engage a lot of people, understanding that racism exists and that it’s a problem for the whole system.”