Hospital in California Sued for Racism in Black Mother’s Death


The husband of a Black woman who died hours after childbirth in 2016 sued Cedars-Sinai Medical hospital on Wednesday, saying she bled to death due to a culture of racism on the renowned Los Angeles medical center.

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

“There’s little question in my mind that my wife could be here today and be here Sunday celebrating Mother’s Day along with her boys if she was a Caucasian woman,” Johnson said at a news conference outside the hospital. “The truth is that on April 12, 2016, after we walked into Cedars-Sinai hospital for what we expected to be the happiest day of our lives, the best risk factor that Kira Dixon Johnson faced was racism.”

Johnson died about 12 hours after having a scheduled cesarean section that was performed in 17 minutes to deliver the couple’s second son, Langston.

Despite signs she was bleeding internally, she languished for hours without being readmitted to the operating room until it was too late, the lawsuit said.

“That is sloppy. It was butchery,” attorney Nick Rowley said. “It shocked everybody that we deposed, all of the health care providers, even the pinnacle of (obstetrics) here, the pinnacle of labor and delivery, checked out it and said ‘No, I’ve never seen one done that fast.’”

The surgeon who performed the C-section had cut into Kira Johnson’s bladder and she or he hadn’t been sutured properly, Rowley said. When she was finally brought back into the operating room, nearly 90% of her blood was present in her stomach.

The hospital, which has fought the malpractice lawsuit, said in an announcement that it was founded on principles of diversity and health take care of all and it rejected “any mischaracterization of our culture and values.”

“We’re 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 the eye he has delivered to the vital issue of racial disparities in maternal outcomes.”

Kira Johnson’s death led her husband on a crusade to advocate for reducing maternal mortality, which is particularly high for Black women.

Before the pandemic, which increased deaths of girls of color during childbirth, Black women died at 2.5 times the speed of white women, in keeping with the National Center for Health Statistics.

Charles Johnson has testified before Congress and on the state Capitol in Sacramento in support of a wide range of bills, including a 2019 state law that requires doctors and nurses to discover implicit bias at work, and a recent bill that might lift the cap on medical malpractice awards.

Johnson wouldn’t profit from a change within the malpractice law that currently caps awards at $250,000. The case is scheduled to go to trial May 11, though recent court filings indicated the 2 sides were near reaching a settlement.

The civil rights case would give Johnson one other avenue to gather damages and hold Cedars-Sinai accountable. He’s also in search of an injunction that might require the hospital to make changes to guard moms and ladies of color.

Johnson said his malpractice lawsuit had revealed “rampant racism,” with witnesses saying his wife was improperly treated due to her race.

Dr. Kimberly Gregory, an obstetrician and gynecologist on the hospital, testified that she lives with “structural racism” every single day and it prevents Black patients from receiving the identical care as whites, in keeping with court papers. She also said Kira Johnson must have gone back to the operating room sooner.

Dr. Sarah Kilpatrick, chair of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department, testified that she told Charles Johnson: “I’m sorry. We failed your loved ones. … This shouldn’t have happened.”

Angelique Washington, a Black surgical technologist working within the operating room, said “patient safety was out the door” when Kira Johnson got here in.

Washington, who has greater than 30 years of experience, said she routinely witnessed different treatment of Black women but was afraid to talk up.

“After I see my Black … patients are available, I say an additional prayer,” Washington said. “I say a silent prayer that every one goes well. Since you do have racism very much so within the operating room.”


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