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Allegations of B.C. health staff guessing alcohol levels prompt calls to address systemic racism

Click to play video: 'Allegations of racist game played by emergency room staff' Allegations of racist game played by emergency room staff
The province has launched an investigation into allegations emergency room staff at some hospitals may have played a racist guessing game, targeting Indigenous patients. – Jun 20, 2020

Shocking allegations about health staff betting on the blood alcohol level of primarily Indigenous patients highlights the urgent need to address systemic racism within B.C.’s health-care system, Métis Nation British Columbia CEO Daniel Fontaine says.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Friday that he was made aware of alleged “abhorrent practices” on Thursday evening involving ER staff who would guess test results before they were confirmed of Indigenous people and perhaps others.

Click to play video: 'Health authorities and unions representing hospital workers are vowing to cooperate with a health-care investigation at B.C. emergency rooms' Health authorities and unions representing hospital workers are vowing to cooperate with a health-care investigation at B.C. emergency rooms
Health authorities and unions representing hospital workers are vowing to cooperate with a health-care investigation at B.C. emergency rooms – Jun 20, 2020

It’s unclear how many times the game has been played, where it has taken place, or how long it has been going on.

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Fontaine said he notified the province when he heard about the allegations around the so-called “Price is Right” game.

He said he is also aware of reports from 2019 that “catalog literally dozens of incidents, almost as egregious as what we’ve heard with this Price is Right game.”

“There are documented cases with the government’s own health workers who are indicating that this is systemic and it will require some significant changes and it may even require some people being removed from the health-care system if, in fact, it can be proven that they were participating in racist activities.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. investigates claims of hospital workers playing racist game against Indigenous patients' B.C. investigates claims of hospital workers playing racist game against Indigenous patients
B.C. investigates claims of hospital workers playing racist game against Indigenous patients – Jun 19, 2020

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he had 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 institutions, including government and health,” he said.

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Dix asked B.C.’s former representative of children and youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond to lead the investigation into the allegations.

Fontaine says he hopes the investigation’s focus will extend beyond the allegations around the game.

Click to play video: '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
B.C. launches investigation into reports of health officials betting on Indigenous patients’ blood alcohol level – Jun 19, 2020

“We don’t really need another report telling us that there is systemic racism,” he said.

“What we need is, actually, action. We need (to go) well beyond words. We need to ensure that when an Indigenous person, Métis person, goes into a hospital over the coming months, over the coming years, that they feel and they know they’re going to get treated equally within the system. And right now, based on that allegation of the Price is Right game and what I saw in that report, I’m not comfortable telling them that that’s the case at the moment.”

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A joint statement from B.C. health authorities voiced support for the investigation, saying they will work with the Health Ministry and Turpel-Lafond on the issue.

“To be clear: discriminatory behaviour in any B.C. health-care facility is unacceptable and violates our principles, policies and values,” the statement said.

Click to play video: 'Allegations of racism in B.C. hospitals' Allegations of racism in B.C. hospitals
Allegations of racism in B.C. hospitals – Jun 19, 2020

Organizations such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia, Doctors of B.C., the B.C. Nurses’ Union and the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU) also support the investigation.

“I think if we look at systemically what happens with Indigenous communities, Indigenous people in our health-care system, it would be deeply troubling,” HEU secretary-manager Jennifer Whiteside said.

Click to play video: 'Keith Baldrey on racism allegations in B.C. hospitals' Keith Baldrey on racism allegations in B.C. hospitals
Keith Baldrey on racism allegations in B.C. hospitals – Jun 19, 2020

“We know that there is pervasive racism in our health-care system.”

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Dr. Nadine Caron, a general surgeon who serves as the co-director of UBC’s Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health, said she was not surprised by the allegations, but said she is cautiously optimistic that patients and the general public will demand changes to address systemic racism in health care.

“I’m aware of friends and colleagues going to protests and this might not have been on their radar a month ago,” she said.

— With files from Richard Zussman and The Canadian Press

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