Black Woman Dies After Waiting Hours in ER for Help

Photo: Tashonna Ward, Submitted by Andrea Ward

It is often suggested that women, especially black women, go ignored and/or unseen due to implicit bias in the American healthcare system.

Such may have been the case for Tashonna Ward, a 25-year-old daycare teacher from Milwaukee who died Jan. 2 while trying to find a doctor to help her, USA Today reports.

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Ward waited for over two hours in the emergency room of Froedtert Hospital before leaving to find faster help. She collapsed and died shortly after and now her family is looking for answers as to why she wasn’t seen sooner after she reported severe chest pains and trouble breathing.

“How can you triage someone with shortness of breath and chest pain and stick them in the lobby?” said Ward’s cousin, Andrea Ward. “Froedtert needs to change their policy.”

According to USA Today:

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office has not determined the cause of death. Its report doesn’t say whether Ward was admitted or seen by a doctor at Froedtert before she left.

Ward’s family says she was kept in the waiting room and was not under any monitoring when she decided to leave.

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Hospital staff had checked her heartbeat with an electrocardiogram, which appeared normal, according to the report. After, she was asked to stay in the waiting room until she could be admitted and seen by a doctor, according to her family.

At 5:45 p.m., Ward posted on Facebook, “I really hope I’m not in this emergency room all night.”

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At 7:35 p.m., she posted that she’d been told she might have to wait two to six hours to see a doctor. “Idk what they can do about the emergency system at freodert (sic) but they damn sure need to do something. I been here since 4:30 something for shortness of breath, and chest pains for them to just say it’s a two to SIX hour wait to see a dr.”

A chest X-ray revealed that Ward suffered from cardiomegaly: an enlarged heart.

According to USA Today, Ward had a history of this. In March, when her baby died after the umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s neck, Ward was told she had developed an enlarged heart during the pregnancy, according to a medical examiner’s report.

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There’s no mention in the report as to whether Ward retained an enlarged heart since the pregnancy, or if it was the result of a recent flare-up. Cardiomegaly can be both temporary or permanent. In either case, it can put people at greater risk for blood clots, cardiac arrest and other heart problems.

A spokesperson for the hospital kind of, but not really, provided a statement saying, “The family is in our thoughts and has our deepest sympathy. We cannot comment further at this time.”

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I’m sure their “thoughts” are of little consolation to Ward’s grieving family, although, to be fair, I’m also sure that’s all they can legally say for their own protection.

Still, one is left to wonder if this is yet another case of black women being ignored and set aside instead of receiving the medical care they sought out. There have been plenty of studies done and articles written documenting racial disparity in physician’s and hospital staff’s handling of people in need of care, such as this article published by the American Bar Association last year.

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What is clear is that there is still much work to be done to ensure that people of color, especially black women, are receiving proper care lest preventable tragedies like what has happened to Tashonna Ward continue.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

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