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It’s Time to Address One of the Leading Causes of Health Care Complications: Racism

Kira Johnson died 10 hours after a routine C-section in 2016 at a Los Angeles hospital. The medical cause — and the subject of her family’s ongoing wrongful death lawsuit — was hemorrhagic shock due to massive internal bleeding.

But there was another contributing factor, according to Kira’s husband: Racism. Charles Johnson filed a civil rights lawsuit last year alleging that his late wife received improper treatment because she was Black.

It’s becoming increasingly clear, according to new research by the RAND Corporation and MedStar Health, that Kira and her family are not alone.

The effects of racism, including chronic stress, neighborhoods lacking high-quality food and health care, are widely acknowledged to contribute to poor health overall. But it’s only recently that researchers have begun to quantify how much more likely Black patients are to experience routine, preventable medical errors — what the medical field calls “patient safety events.”

Women of color, regardless of income or education, are 3 to 4 times more likely to die during childbirth than other women. And Black patients are significantly more likely to experience negative outcomes in hospital settings, including post-operative infections like sepsis, hemorrhages, pulmonary embolism or respiratory failure.

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