Why racism complaints are rarely investigated, even in patient deaths

Advocates are pushing regulators to investigate if racism played a part in the death of a patient at Inglewood, Calif.-based Centinela Hospital, but the state is ill-equipped to make such assertions, KFF Health News reported Aug. 8.

An investigation was launched in January after a Black woman admitted for labor and delivery died of a preventable condition that started with a blood clot. The California Department of Public Health fined Centinela Hospital Medical Center $75,000 for "deficient practices" that led to a patient's death. The Prime Healthcare hospital recently announced it would close its maternity services in October.

The patient's family and advocates want the state to investigate whether systematic or interpersonal racism played a role. However, a KFF Health News analysis found state authorities do not often discrimination complaints and rarely fine hospitals for violations.

The state Department of Public Health and medical board receive hundreds of discrimination complaints each year, but rarely find violations. The reason is unclear, but some experts told the news outlet it could be due to the high burden of proof for substantiating discrimination cases.

The agencies told the KFF Health News they do their best with their authority but blamed current law, which requires "clear and convincing evidence" to discipline physicians or hospitals. It is challenging to substantiate cases if the allegations are not documented or are not corroborated by witnesses. At hospitals, it is hard to find evidence unless investigators identify a pattern — a labor-intensive job plagued by underreported complaints.

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