Cedars-Sinai faces civil rights investigation
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is under federal investigation for civil rights violations related to its treatment of Black women during childbirth, the Los Angeles Times reported on July 11.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) opened the investigation in response to allegations of racism and discrimination following the death of Kira Dixon Johnson,
In April 2016, Johnson underwent a cesarean section at Cedars-Sinai to deliver her second son. She died hours later after hemorrhaging blood.
Johnson informed her doctor about the blood draining, and a surgical emergency CT scan was requested. Despite her husband’s pleas for her to be readmitted to the operating room, he was informed that his wife ‘wasn’t a priority,’ according to the civil rights lawsuits Johnson filed last year.
By the time Kira was admitted into the operating room (OR), doctors found three liters of blood in her abdomen and died shortly after from hemorrhagic shock.
When Kira died nearly 90% of her blood was found in her stomach, according to their attorney Nicholas Rowley. It was also found that her bladder had been cut and had been improperly sutured.
“It shocked everybody that we deposed, all the health care providers, even the head of (obstetrics) here, the head of labor and delivery, looked at it and said ‘No, I’ve never seen one done that fast,’” Rowley told the AP.
In 2017, Johnson sued Cedars-Sinai and the attending physician for wrongful death and emotional distress. Both lawsuits settled.
Civil rights investigations begins
The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) sent a letter to Charles Johnson in March letting him know that they have, “been made aware of concerns regarding the standard of care provided to Black women in the care of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center,” and “Specifically, OCR is aware of allegations that Black women are provided a standard of care below what is provided to other women who are not Black when receiving health care services related to labor and delivery.”
The agency is currently assessing whether the hospital is adhering to federal civil rights laws considering the allegations and the fact that Cedars-Sinai receives federal funding, the letter highlighted.
In an email statement, Melanie Fontes Rainer, the Director of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), confirmed that the agency is conducting an investigation.
“Maternal health is a priority for the Biden-Harris Administration and one in which the HHS Office for Civil Rights is working on around the country to ensure equity and equality in health care,” Fontes Rainer wrote.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center officials responded to the lawsuit last year in a statement saying they, ”reject any mischaracterization of our culture and values” and they were actively working to “eradicate unconscious bias in healthcare.”
Cedars responded to the investigation in an emailed statement saying, “Cedars-Sinai clinicians, leaders and researchers have long been concerned with national disparities in Black maternal health, and we are proud of the work we’ve done (and continue to do) to address these issues in Los Angeles as well as at the state and national levels.”
The statement also shared their commitment to Black maternal health through partnerships with advocacy organizations like California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative and Cherished Futures for Black Moms & Babies. They also noted that they provide unconscious bias training to their employees, conduct clinical studies that research Black maternal health. and provide over $2.2 million in grants to nonprofits in Los Angeles aimed at improving maternal health disparities.
Despite nationwide attention on Black maternal health disparities, the number of women who die from childbirth each year is climbing and Black women bear the brunt of that reality. From 2020 to 2021, maternal deaths in the U.S. increased by 40%, according to data from the CDC. Black women are more than 2.6 times likely to die in childbirth than white women.