“This is how Black people get killed: when you send them home and they don’t know how to fight for themselves.”
- Dr. Susan Moore
Today, on the fourth day of our week dedicated to the health status of Black women, we uplift the name of Dr. Susan Moore, a Black woman, physician, and mother who died in Indianapolis on December 20th, 2020 due to complications related to COVID-19. In her final weeks of life, Dr. Moore was not only compelled to battle a virus that has killed more than 470,000 Americans, she was forced to confront the deeply entrenched systems of racism and sexism that deemed her life expendable and her suffering less important than the suffering of her white counterparts.
Through the death of Dr. Moore, the American healthcare system has once again demonstrated its blatant disregard for the lives of Black people—and Black women in particular. Even in death Dr. Moore was dehumanized, stripped of her dignity as words like “intimidating” were weaponized to justify the extremely poor quality of care she experienced.
After testing positive for COVID-19, Dr. Moore was admitted into the Indiana University Hospital system. On December 4th she posted a video that has gone viral, describing how she was treated by the hospital’s staff. She shared a story about being treated “like a drug addict” when she asked the doctors and nurses for medicine to reduce her pain. Even as her symptoms worsened, her pleas for care were ignored. She was told to go home as her breathing became more labored, and further complications from COVID-19 were developing. In her video, she was clear about the pernicious form of racism she encountered. She noted, “I put forward and I maintain if I was white, I wouldn't have to go through [this].”
Much has been said about Dr. Moore’s story: about her knowledge and expertise as a physician, her membership in the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and her role in her family as a caregiver for her son and aging parents. But, even without these signifiers, she was deserving of equitable care. She should have received the kind of treatment that honored her humanity and that gave her a legitimate chance at survival. She should have been treated with respect. That’s not what happened, however. Instead, Dr. Moore was compelled to fight until her very last breath in order to shine a light on the inequities she faced as a COVID-19 patient.
The disparities we see in the care and survival outcomes of Black Americans in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, are not inevitable. They are the creation of systemic forms of racism that construct a reality wherein women like Dr. Moore can be stereotyped as an addict simply because they request the medication necessary to treat the excruciatingly painful side effects of a lethal disease. Here racism and sexism served to typecast Dr. Moore as someone who could be deemed unruly, intimidating, and untrustworthy at perhaps the most vulnerable moment of her life.
Black women stand at the crossroads of the systemic ills of racism, sexism, and heteropatriarchy in the medical profession. Data demonstrates that they are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 and that those who become infected with the virus face higher risks of complications and mortality than whites. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2020), Black people are 1.4 times more likely to contract COVID-19, 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized for its symptoms, and 2.8 times more likely to die from the virus than their white peers. Moreover, Black patients are 40% less likely than their white counterparts to secure the medicine they need for acute pain.
Dr. Moore was one of the small number of Black women working as a licensed physician in the United States. However, it is no wonder that she struggled to access the quality of care she deserved. Her video reflects her profound vulnerability as a Black woman in America. After all, we still live in a deeply divided and starkly segregated society. Long-standing systemic healthcare and social inequities put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk. Dr. Moore knew what this meant: under these circumstances, Blackness is the real preexisting condition.
At the African American Policy Forum, we will continue to use our voice to decry the inequities that Black women face. We stand in solidarity with the family and loved ones of Dr. Susan Moore. We speak her name and will tell her story until racial inequities no longer exist, and Black women—and Black people writ large—are able to access the dignity and care they so desperately deserve.
We cannot fix a problem we fail to recognize. Dr. Susan Moore’s story and death while experiencing COVID-19 complications demonstrates that even Black women who are knowledgeable about the healthcare system are not immune from being mistreated within it. Too often they are disbelieved, and misled. Thus, we believe it is imperative that we reveal the intersectional difficulties faced by Black women and girls. We are beginning to collect responses regarding their experiences.