Alberta Health Services (AHS) is apologizing after a letter from the health organization’s finance department was addressed to “Treaty Indian” rather than using the name of the 15-year-old girl the letter was intended for.
Dawn Marie Marchand, a local Indigenous artist, shared a picture of the letter on Twitter on Wednesday night. She said a friend of hers received the letter, and it was intended for the woman’s 15-year-old daughter.
Marchand told Global News: “How the mistake was made is irrelevant. It shows a fairly distinct problem that needs to be identified.”
On Thursday morning, AHS said in a statement the address line contained “completely inappropriate and culturally offensive language, which should never have been used.
“This in no way reflects the beliefs or values of AHS, and is no way indicative of our relationship with First Nations and Indigenous people. All of our employees are expected to treat all people with dignity and respect,” the statement read.
“We sincerely and unreservedly apologize for any offence or concern this has caused. This should not have happened, and we are profoundly saddened that it has.”
AHS said staff reached out to the teen and her mother on Wednesday night to apologize. The health authority said the topic was discussed at a Truth and Reconciliation event in Edmonton on Thursday morning, talking more about how they can learn from situations like this.
“We know that a significant barrier to First Nations people accessing the healthcare system is trust, and acknowledge that institutional racism and stereotyping has kept people from getting the care they need,” AHS said.
“Rest assured that we are taking this extremely seriously. We will continue to be guided by the advice of our Wisdom Council, a group of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Albertans who first came together in September of 2012.”
Marchand said her friend feels the photo speaks for itself and she will not be making a public comment on it. Marchand added that “apologies and bad feelings aren’t good enough anymore.”
“I hope there is a real movement to address changes that need to be made to see that people feel accepted and respected to build trust in a necessary public service for all.”
In a statement posted to the AHS Facebook page Thursday afternoon, the agency said it had completed its initial investigation “into how unacceptable and culturally insensitive language was included in a letter to a young First Nations person. This was an inexcusable error, and should never have happened,” the statement reads.
“The error occurred when historical wording related to Treaty status was entered into the wrong field on a patient record, at the time of a hospital visit more than a decade ago.
“Following a more recent hospital visit, our computer system inadvertently copied that incorrect wording, and included it on an invoice which was then sent out to the person.
“The wording is absolutely not language that we would purposefully use. It is inappropriate, insensitive and should not be used in any circumstance. We are confident that this is a one-off incident, and that it is not indicative of language used by AHS staff.
“We are continuing to review this case, including reviewing all wording in billing system databases, to ensure this does not happen again. In addition, we have waived the invoice regarding this issue.”