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B.C. health workers allegedly bet on Indigenous patients’ blood alcohol levels

Allegations of racism in B.C. hospitals

The province is investigating reports of health-care staff playing a racist game betting on the blood alcohol level of mainly Indigenous patients they were treating, according to Health Minister Adrian Dix.

“The allegation is that a game was being played to investigate the blood alcohol level of patients in the emergency rooms, in particular with Indigenous people and perhaps others. And if true, it is intolerable and racist and of course (has) affected profoundly patient care,” Dix told reporters at a news conference in Vancouver on Friday morning.

B.C. launches investigation into reports of health officials betting on Indigenous patients’ blood alcohol level
B.C. launches investigation into reports of health officials betting on Indigenous patients’ blood alcohol level

Former Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond to lead the investigation that will start Monday, he said.

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Dix said he learned of the “abhorrent” allegations the night before, and that no nurses or doctors have been disciplined as of yet.

BMO apologizes for handcuffing of Indigenous grandfather and granddaughter
BMO apologizes for handcuffing of Indigenous grandfather and granddaughter

There are no details yet on how widespread the game has been, how many nurses and doctors have been involved, and where it’s been happening.

READ MORE: BMO apologizes for handcuffing of Indigenous 12-year-old, denies racism a factor

‘Common game’

According to a statement from Métis Nation BC and the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, a participant in a recent training session on Indigenous cultural safety, offered by the Provincial Health Services Authority, referred to a “common game played within B.C. hospital emergency rooms.”

It was one of “thousands” of cases of racism that participants talked about during the online course, the organizations said. No other details were provided.

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First Nations, Métis and Inuit patients seeking emergency care are often assumed to be intoxicated and denied medical assessments, the statement went on.

“There remains a lack of will to address systemic and specific racism towards Métis, First Nation and Inuit people,” said Leslie Varley, executive director of the Aboriginal Friendship Centres group.

Health official on potentially ‘culturally devastating’ impact of COVID-19 on B.C.’s Indigenous people
Health official on potentially ‘culturally devastating’ impact of COVID-19 on B.C.’s Indigenous people

“We know that our people avoid hospitals because we are afraid of having a discriminatory encounter. This happens to the point where Indigenous people end up in emergency with extreme diagnosis, like cancer.”

Both organizations are calling on the Ministry of Health to hold a public inquiry into Indigenous-specific racism in the B.C. health-care system, with a focus on hospitals and emergency rooms, and ensure all front-line staff are required to take mandatory cultural training.

“What is allegedly happening in B.C. hospitals to Métis, First Nations and Inuit peoples is deeply disturbing and must immediately come to an end,” said Daniel Fontaine, CEO of Métis Nation BC.

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“We remain committed to work with Provincial Health Services Authority to increase Métis-specific content curriculum to increase the knowledge and understanding of healthcare providers.”

READ MORE: Indigenous teen’s ‘heinous’ treatment while disclosing abuse indicative of pattern, advocate says

Turpel-Lafond, known for her eviscerating reports into the child welfare system when she was the watchdog, said the province has assured her she’ll get full access and tools required for her investigation.

“I will sort those details out next week and make a more complete statement of the scope, focus and timeframe for the work,” she said in a statement.

Premier John Horgan said he is outraged by “reports of ugly, anti-Indigenous, racist behaviour at multiple health-care facilities in B.C.”

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“There is no excuse. There is no explaining this away,” he said. “If confirmed, this is a heartbreaking example of systemic racism in our province.”

Cheryl Casimer with the B.C. First Nations Summit said was pleased by the choice of Turpel-Lafond to lead the probe.

But she said the work to dismantle racist stereotypes about Indigenous peoples can’t wait for the investigation’s outcome.

“I don’t think we necessarily have a lot of time to have a systemic overhaul to the healthcare sector in order for indigenous people to be able to go into an emergency room and be treated with respect,” she said.

“A lot of people still think that Indigenous peoples are alcoholics and drunks.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he’d not heard of the game before Friday’s announcement, but that he was not surprised.

“I’m not shocked that this type of systemic racism permeates all of our institution, including government and health,” he said.

“The people who have a very high-level duty of care and were involved in this need to be terminated.”

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Anti-Indigenous racism in health care

Leslie Varley, executive director with the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres says anti-Indigenous racism in the health-care system is nothing new.

Varley worked with the Provincial Health Services Authority to develop the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training program for B.C. health-care workers in 2008.

“We received thousands and thousands of examples of this and far worse cases of Indigenous-specific racism in the health care system,” she told CKNW’s Jill Bennett Show.

“So much so that we could see patterns and hot spots of where racism exists and what departments they exist in throughout B.C.”

Varley alleged that despite data being provided to senior officials in the health-care system there was little stomach to address the issue.

Incidents of racism, she said, are lumped in with medical errors and other patient quality care issues in health authority statistics.

Varley said Indigenous patients who are the targets of racism and Indigenous bystanders are also often afraid to speak up.

“It’s not safe for us to speak up for ourselves. We worry that we’re going to get kicked out of the hospital and then nobody is going to look after our health care,” she said.

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“So we remain silent.”