Los Angeles hospital sued for racism in death of black mother

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The husband of a black woman who died hours after giving birth in 2016 sued Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Wednesday, saying she bled to death because of a culture of racism in the famous hospital in Los Angeles.

Charles Johnson IV said he discovered the disparity in the care women of color receive at Cedars compared to white women during depositions in his wrongful death lawsuit due to go to trial next week in Los Angeles Superior Court.

What do you want to know

  • Charles Johnson’s wife Kira died in 2016 after her bladder was cut during a C-section
  • He said he discovered rampant racism while testifying in his malpractice lawsuit against the hospital
  • The hospital said it was founded on the principles of diversity and healthcare for all and rejected any distortion of its culture and values.
  • He also said he is working to eradicate unconscious bias in healthcare.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that my wife would be here today and would be here Sunday celebrating Mother’s Day with her boys if she were a Caucasian woman,” Johnson said at a press conference. outside the hospital. “The reality is that on April 12, 2016, when we walked into Cedars-Sinai Hospital for what we thought was the happiest day of our lives, the biggest risk factor Kira Dixon Johnson faced was racism. .”

Johnson died around 12 hours after undergoing a scheduled C-section which was performed in 17 minutes to deliver the couple’s second son, Langston.

“It’s sloppy. It was butchery,” attorney Nicholas Rowley said. ) here, the head of labor and delivery, looked at him and said, ‘No, I’ve never seen one done so fast.

Despite signs that she was bleeding inside and because of desperate pleas from her husband, Kira Johnson languished for hours without being readmitted to the operating room until it was too late, said civil rights trial.

At one point, a nurse told Charles Johnson that his wife was not a priority, according to the lawsuit.

She died of internal bleeding – almost 90% of her blood was later found in her stomach, Rowley said. Her bladder had been lacerated and she had not been sutured properly.

The hospital, which fought the malpractice lawsuit, said in a statement it was founded on the principles of diversity and healthcare for all and rejected ‘any distortion of our culture and values. “.

“We are actively working to eradicate unconscious bias in health care and advance equity in health care more broadly,” the statement said. “We commend Mr. Johnson for his attention to the important issue of racial disparities in maternal outcomes.”

Kira Johnson’s death has led her husband on a crusade to advocate for reductions in maternal mortality, which is particularly high among black women.

Before the pandemic, which increased the number of deaths of women of color during childbirth, black women died 2.5 times more than white women, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Charles Johnson has testified before Congress and at the Sacramento State Capitol in support of various bills, including a 2019 state law that requires doctors and nurses to identify implicit bias in the workplace , and a recent bill that would lift the cap on medical malpractice awards.

Johnson would not benefit from a change in the malpractice law that currently caps compensation at $250,000. The case is set to go to trial on May 11, although recent court documents have indicated the two sides are close to reaching a settlement.

The civil rights case would give Johnson another avenue to collect damages and hold Cedars-Sinai accountable. He is also seeking an injunction that would force the hospital to make changes to protect mothers and women of color.

But proving a civil rights violation in healthcare is difficult because most laws require discrimination to be intentional, said Loyola Law School professor Brietta Clark.

“Compared to when civil rights laws were enacted, much of the kind of unequal treatment we see in health care today doesn’t seem to be explicit,” Clark said. “He doesn’t seem to be conscious.”

A judge had dismissed Johnson’s efforts to amend the malpractice case to add the civil rights action, in part because the deposition excerpts did not show the hospital discriminated against racial in the treatment he offered.

Dr. Kimberly Gregory, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the hospital, testified that she lives with “structural racism” every day and that it prevents black patients from receiving the same care as whites, according to court documents. She also said that Kira Johnson should have returned to the operating room sooner.

Dr. Sarah Kilpatrick, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology, testified that she told Charles Johnson, “I’m sorry. We failed your family. … This shouldn’t have happened.

Angelique Washington, a black surgical technologist, said “patient safety was out of reach” when Kira Johnson entered the operating room.

Washington, who has more than 30 years of experience, said she regularly witnesses different treatment for black women, but is afraid to speak out.

“When I see my black patients … come in, I say an extra prayer,” Washington said. “I say a silent prayer for everything to go well. Because you have a lot of racism in the operating room.

Clark said the evidence identified by the judge as weak were more general statements and not specifically about supplier discrimination. She said the main thing for Johnson’s legal team would be to show a pattern of discrimination.

Rowley said the effort to amend the case was a long one. He has since gathered further evidence from additional depositions and will be able to seek data – such as the number of black women who died at Cedars – to support his claim in the new trial.

“Kira died because she’s black,” he said. “Women of color don’t get the same treatment as white women. It is a fact.”

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