Cedars-Sinai faces civil rights lawsuit over death of black woman

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is facing a civil rights lawsuit accusing the hospital of racism for how it handled the care of a black mother who died there in 2016.

Kira Dixon Johnson, 39 at the time, traveled to Cedars-Sinai in April 2016 to deliver her second son by C-section, but died days later after hemorrhaging blood, according to a complaint filed this week in Los Angeles Superior Court by her husband, Charles Johnson. The lawsuit accuses the hospital of failing to provide the best possible care because Kira was a black woman.

During a press conference Wednesday outside Beverly Boulevard Hospital, Charles Johnson noted that this weekend would mark another Mother’s Day, his wife would not be alive to celebrate the holiday with their children “because Cedars “Sinai abandoned her”.

“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.

The lawsuit comes just as a separate wrongful death lawsuit relating to Kira’s death is set to go on May 11 in Los Angeles Superior Court. In 2017, Johnson filed a wrongful death and emotional distress lawsuit against Cedars-Sinai and the doctor who treated his wife while she was in hospital.

Lawyers for the Johnson family said they alleged other violations under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination by private businesses in California on the basis of race and other protected classes.

Nationwide, nearly 700 women die each year from pregnancy-related complications, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In recent years, the CDC has found that some of the most common pregnancy-related complications include infections, cardiovascular problems, bleeding, high blood pressure, and pulmonary embolisms.

Black women had the highest maternal mortality rates in the country, with about 42 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2014 and 2017, according to the CDC. Hispanic or Latina women had the lowest rates, with nearly 12 deaths per 100,000 live births during the same period. Black women are also three to four times more likely to die from childbirth, according to the CDC.

According to both lawsuits, Kira was admitted to Cedars-Sinai for a C-section, but hours later Johnson said he noticed Kira’s catheter was draining blood. Dr Arjang Naim, Kira’s doctor, was made aware of her plight and an ’emergency surgical’ CT scan was ordered.

But the scan was never performed, according to the prosecution. When Kira was sent for surgery, doctors found three liters of blood in her abdomen and she soon died of hemorrhagic shock from the blood loss, according to the lawsuits.

Cedars-Sinai officials said in an emailed statement to The Times that “federal privacy laws prevent us from responding directly to any patient’s care” and that the hospital has a “long-standing commitment to make changes to ensure we provide patients with the highest level of care.”

“We reject any misinterpretation of our culture and values,” the statement said. “While disparities exist in our society, we are actively working to eradicate unconscious bias in health care and advance equity in health care more broadly. We commend Mr. Johnson for the attention he has raised to the important issue of racial disparities in maternal outcomes.

Chris Dolan, an attorney representing Johnson and his two sons, pointed to previous depositions from Cedars-Sinai employees who said people of color are treated differently than white people. These depositions are key to the civil rights lawsuit filed this week.

In a sworn deposition with Angelique Washington, a surgical technologist at Cedars-Sinai when Kira was there, Washington said they had “waited for a while for Kira to have surgery.” She went on to say that she often says “an extra prayer” for black patients who come into the operating room for fear of not receiving proper care.

“It’s Cedars own people, blaming Cedars for their failures,” Dolan said. “As this lawsuit progresses, more and more will be exposed, and I hope this sends a message to other hospitals and healthcare facilities that if you discriminate based on someone’s color, we come get you.”

The civil rights lawsuit alleges Kira did not receive proper treatment because she was a black woman, including delayed treatment for more than 10 hours, even though doctors knew she was bleeding. At one point, according to the lawsuit, a nurse told Johnson that his wife was “not a priority.”

Cedars-Sinai, one of the largest nonprofit academic medical centers in the nation and in Los Angeles, often helps with about 6,200 births a year, according to the hospital’s website.




Los Angeles Times

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