By Scott Linesburgh, THE STOCKTON RECORD
February 13, 2021
MANTECA – Sharon Washington-Barnes led a group of more than 40 people on a 1.5-mile march through southwest Manteca, visiting each of the medical facilities they felt failed her late brother, Shawn Washington II.
At each stop, Washington-Barnes led the crowd in chants of “He Was Here” and “Say His Name,” lit candles and sent a message: Shawn will be remembered and the medical neglect his family feels led to his death almost two years ago will be addressed.
Washington-Barnes organized the Saturday morning march, which began at Sequoia Park in Manteca and went to Valley Oak Dental, Modern Urgent Care and Kaiser Permanente’s Manteca Medical Center, all on Yosemite Ave. She said Shawn, who was Black, visited each facility during his illness, and died of sepsis at Kaiser in Manteca on April 26, 2019, after spending nearly eight hours in the emergency room.
“We’re out here to march for my big brother and others who died because of medical negligence and systemic racism in health care,” Washington-Barnes said. “Shawn visited three health care facilities in Manteca and all of them neglected him, which resulted in his death at the age of 29. He had a daughter on the way which he never got to meet. This shouldn’t have happened.”
The march was also organized to endorse the Fairness for Injured Patients Act, an initiative to update California’s malpractice cap legislation. The event drew a mix of concerned citizens, family members of Washington’s and those involved in social justice groups. Washington-Barnes, 28, is the head of the Manteca chapter of Black Lives Matter and the executive director of Change 4 Shawn. Vine Sanchez of Lodi said it was important to support the message of the Washington family.
“I think it’s important to call out racism not only when it involves police shootings, but also systemic racism,” Sanchez said. “It’s part of the everyday aspects of our lives. The more people that come out, the bigger the difference it can make.”
Some in the group carried signs during the march, some bearing Shawn’s name. Washington-Barnes spoke at each stop, but was especially emotional when she stood on the sidewalk outside of Kaiser.
Shawn visited Kaiser twice looking for treatment, and at one point he believed it was a dental issue. At each of the facilities, Washington-Barnes said her brother was given ibuprofen or other medications and sent home.
On the last occasion he visited Kaiser, Shawn walked into the emergency room after being transported by ambulance and was not admitted. He died of an undiagnosed lung hemorrhage caused by a delayed diagnosis of sepsis, according to his family.
“I just want people to know what we’re going through, and I don’t want others to go through it,” said Shawn’s mother, Dianna Griffin-Washington. “My son was everything to me.”
Susan Sell, a pro bono medical advocate, said she has studied the medical files of Shawn Washington II and believes the family has a strong case for negligence.
“It’s clear, from all four stops along the way, that what we in health care call standard protocols were not met at any time,” Sell said. “The first time (Shawn) presented at Kaiser, he should have had X-rays. All the way down the line, standards weren’t met.”
Washington-Barnes said her brother didn’t receive proper treatment at Kaiser because he didn’t have his insurance card with him, although he was treated at the facility on a prior occasion and his information should have been on file.
“He wasn’t a Kaiser member, but he had insurance. They listed him as unemployed, but it wasn’t true,” Washington-Barnes said. “And he’s a Black man with a girlfriend and a baby on the way, so they tested him for HIV. But not for anything to do with his symptoms. I do feel race played into it.”
The Washington family had trouble finding a lawyer to pursue action, and at that point they found out about California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, which was passed in 1975 and caps medical malpractice lawsuits at $250,000. With no change over the past 46 years, that amount is worth around 80% less than it was in 1975, factoring in inflation.
Washington-Barnes said they were two weeks away from the one-year statute of limitations on the case when someone out of the Stockton NAACP helped them file the paperwork. She also said the family is in mediation with Kaiser, but does not want to settle.
While bringing attention to the case is helpful, Sell and others said the most important step is to change the law. The Fairness for Injured Patients Act required 623,212 signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot, and supporters have collected 900,000 signatures, The Associated Press reported.
The Washington family will continue to push for the legislation, and to make sure that Shawn Washington II is remembered for who he was and what died with him.
“There’s a little girl who will never meet her father. He played a guitar, he was a great photographer and a wonderful brother,” Washington-Barnes said. "It’s important to remember what was lost.”
Record reporter Scott Linesburgh covers breaking news and sports. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @ScottLinesburgh. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at https://www.recordnet.com/subscribenow.