When James “Charlie” Mahoney and his older brother Melvin went to medical school in the 80s, black doctors were hard to find.
“We remember what it was like when you didn’t see anybody that looked like you,” said Melvin, an internal medicine doctor who worked alongside Mahoney. Even now this group comprises only 5% of the physician workforce.
Mahoney wasn’t a “crusader”, Melvin said. Instead, he approached everything he did with calm resolve, eschewing hospital hierarchies, and leaving the door open for those who followed.
Mahoney would go on to become a respected pulmonologist and pillar of his Brooklyn university hospital system, who led his team into the Covid-19 crisis. But he couldn’t avoid the dangers that frontline workers face – particularly as a lung doctor treating a respiratory illness.
Like many public hospitals in New York, Mahoney’s workplace didn’t have enough protective equipment at the onset of the pandemic and staffing was strained. The exposure was inescapable.