An independent investigator tasked by the B.C. government to look into allegations of racism against Indigenous people in B.C.’s health-care system is promising privacy protection to any victims or workers who come forward.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond was originally hired to look into an allegation of a game being played in an emergency room where staff guessed the blood-alcohol level of mainly Indigenous patients.
“Anyone working in the health care system that needs to share their experience and story with what they may have been a bystander to or participated in, I encourage you to share that information,” Turpel-Lafond said.
“You will face no recrimination in your workplace for doing that. You have my sincere pledge on that. That’s a very strong stand, and the Minister of Health has also affirmed that.”
Health Minister Adrian Dix told Turpel-Lafond she was able to expand the investigation if she felt it is warranted.
Dix says the province is committed to putting in place the recommendations brought forward through the investigation.
B.C.’s current whistle-blower legislation does not include protections for those working in the province’s five health authorities. But Dix does not see this as an impediment for people coming forward.
“This report will be acted on. That is essential, that is important, and that is why we’re asking, in particular, indigenous people across British Columbia, but also health professionals to engage with this so we can make our health care system better and safer for everybody,” Dix said.
“That is what this is about: addressing racism is good for everybody and making the system better and safer will be good for everyone as well.”
Since the investigation was announced nearly three weeks ago, Turpel-Lafond says she has received a lot of information from Indigenous communities about concerns in the health-care system.
“This is an issue of urgent concern, the issue of racism, and more specifically the issue of Indigenous racism in the health-care system,” Turpel-Lafond said.
Turpel-Lafond says she has assembled her team for the investigation, established terms of reference, and launched a survey to collect and assess the experiences of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people when they access health care.
The investigation team includes members with direct clinical experience, knowledge of the health-care system and expertise in conducting complex investigations.
The review will be conducted in stages, starting with the investigation into the ER room “game.”
“I also want to caution that the investigation is not about blaming and shaming. Blaming and shaming is something that indigenous people have experienced, and we certainly are not in the position where we want to reflect that back,” Turpel-Lafond said.
“I can say, though, if I do find that there have been violations of the criminal code or the standards of health professions and health professional bodies. As I look into these investigations, I will report back to the appropriate authorities to be dealt with by them.”
The province has also launched a survey of Indigenous peoples in B.C., asking for their experiences with the health-care system.
“I urge Indigenous peoples to participate in our survey so that we can get an accurate picture of how broad these problems are,” Turpel-Lafond said.
“This is your chance to speak.”