New report highlights racism in health care

REGINA – “She didn’t give me enough freezing and I cried in that chair,” said Leona Quewezance, programs director at All Nations Hope Network.

Leona Quewezance said a recent visit to the dentist traumatized her: “Then when the tears fell, I said stop. I put my hands up, ‘that’s enough’ and she broke the tooth off.”

She needed to get the tooth surgically removed. She said, “I can’t say if she was racist or not, but if she had been treating someone from her own race would she have been so cruel?”

Quewezance said her clients have similar experiences of mistreatment and it keeps some people from accessing health care – one effect of systemic racism in Canada’s healthcare, detailed in a new report.

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Several weeks ago, Maclean’s Magazine ranked Saskatchewan (tied with Manitoba) as second in the country for the highest level of racism.

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Now, the report released Tuesday by the Wellesley Institute, titled “First Peoples, Second Class Treatment” reveals where racism exists in Canada’s healthcare system. “Research shows that racism against Indigenous peoples in the health care system is so pervasive that people strategize around anticipated racism before visiting the emergency department or, in some cases, avoid care altogether,” the report said.

“I’ve talked to people. Why didn’t they get care? Because they were treated poorly or they were looked at poorly because of their addiction or because they had HIV,” explained Margaret Poitras, All Nations Hope Network CEO.

The report’s co-author, Billie Allan, added: “We know clearly that there is differential treatment happening for indigenous people, not just at the individual level, but it’s happening consistently in many places across the country.”

All Nations Hope is trying to combat negative attitudes and stereotypes with a new cultural connections training program they’ll begin offering later this year. Meanwhile, the College of Medicine in Saskatoon said it incorporates “Indigenous knowledge” into its courses.

The Regina Qu’appelle Health Region is also addressing the issue. “All staff at RQHR are required to take aboriginal awareness training,” said Michelle Vogt, RQHR’s human resources executive director.

That’s a positive first step towards the type of care Quewezance wants to see.

“I want to have people understand and be able to relate to each other in a more understanding, empathetic way,” she said.

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