When Health Care Fails, Could the Problem Be Racism?

David Bell

David Bell, a 39-year-old husband and father of three, died in January in the parking lot of a Missouri hospital after being refused treatment or even tests for a third time. He had complained of chest pain each time. Medical staff had diagnosed him with an inflamed heart and sent him home with ibuprofen each time.

Bell was board director of Central County Fire and Rescue. In addition to regular board meetings, he volunteered extensively with the agency to serve the community.

How could this happen? Could it be because David Bell was African American? Initial news reports did not quote anybody accusing the hospital staff of racism. But they did note that American Medical Association (AMA) data show that Black people have a 24 percent higher mortality rate than white people in the U.S. And the AMA, the biggest organization of physicians in the U.S., has concluded that race was one of the most important factors is doctors failing to address pain reported by Black patients compared to that of white patients.

If somebody comes to an emergency room three times complaining of pain and doesn’t get appropriately tested, that’s a crime of the health care system. And in the U.S., if the victim is Black, odds are they are a victim of racism.