In September 2011, a homeless African American mother was found dead in a jail cell after being arrested at the request of St. Mary’s Hospital in St. Louis, Mo., where she was seeking medical care in the emergency room.
Anna Brown, who lost her home due to a devastating tornado that ripped through North Saint Louis City in 2010, moved to the suburban, working-class African American neighborhood of Berkeley with her children. Not long afterward, Brown lost her job at a local sandwich shop, which led her and her two children to live in grinding poverty. Brown could not pay the utility bills and was forced to burn wood inside her home during the winter to keep her children warm. Eventually, child services took custody of the children and placed them in the care of their grandmother. Brown was charged with neglect by police and social services, who failed to consider the circumstances under which she was parenting. After losing her children, she called them every day.
Brown went to three different hospitals complaining that she had severe pain in her ankles. St. Mary's Hospital claims that “appropriate tests” were administered and then, after Brown refused to leave, they called the police to have her removed from the emergency room. She was taken to a local jail where she died on the floor of her cell from a blood clot that moved from her legs to her lungs.
The response from St. Mary's about the incident placed the blame on Brown’s socioeconomic conditions without acknowledging that she was arrested and not treated for blood clots due to their own actions.
Because Brown was a homeless Black woman without money, she was not worth the time or effort of St. Mary’s Hospital. Brown’s case demonstrates how health care, a basic human right, is reduced to a commodity under capitalism. The system, despite all of the innovations of providers and researchers in health care and science, often refuses help to those who need to benefit from the innovations the most.
Tragedies like this do not happen only in St. Louis. A similar incident occurred in Los Angeles, Calif., at the Martin Luther King Harbor Hospital, where Edith Rodriguez was refused medical treatment by the staff, passed out in the emergency waiting room, and was then cuffed by police while unconscious and bleeding. In the case of Rodriguez, like Brown, the hospital staff had called the police to arrest a poor, sick worker who was seeking medical treatment.
These cases show why we must get rid of the racist system of capitalism and create a new system, socialism, where health care is a right for all.