The B.C. government has apologized for widespread occurrences of racism towards Indigenous people in BC’s health-care system.
The apology comes after a months-long investigation found wide-spread racism in the health care system including fear from Indigenous people to access hospitals due to racism.
The investigation was brought forward to examine allegations of nurses and doctors guessing the blood alcohol level of Indigenous patients and perhaps others. Those claims were found to be “unsubstantiated.”
The investigation did find anecdotal reports similar to the original allegation but they were not found to be widespread nor targeted at Indigenous patients.
“Racism is toxic for people and it is toxic for care. I want to make an unequivocal apology as the Minister of Health to those who have experienced racism in accessing health care services now and in the past,” Minister of Health Adrian Dix said.
“Hospital and clinics must be places of trust and comfort. My apology today is an acknowledgment of the pain Indigenous people have born from racism.”
Former children’s commissioner Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond was hired to investigate claims the so-called “Price is Right” game was being played in one B.C. hospital.
“The review found no evidence to substantiate the allegation that the ‘Price is Right’ game was being played in B.C. hospital emergency departments, and if such a game did occur in the past, they are not occurring today,” Turpel-Lafond writes.
But the report did discover the much larger problem of racism and fear from Indigenous people due to the treatment within the health-care system.
Turpel-Lafond, also a former judge, collected and assessed the experiences of Indigenous, Metis and Inuit people when they access health care and found hundreds of examples of prejudice and racism.
“Our review found clear evidence of a much more widespread and insidious problem – a lack of cultural safety and hundreds of examples of prejudice and racism throughout the entire B.C. health care system,” Turpel-Lafond said.
“It doesn’t mean every Indigenous person who gets health care will experience direct or indirect racism, but it does mean that any Indigenous person could experience it – anywhere in the system. We have a significant problem that must be urgently addressed.”
There were 2,780 surveys were completed, detailing concerns about the health-care system. Nearly 5,000 surveys were submitted but many were not completed because the incidents described in the survey were found to be “triggering.”
According to the review, 84 per cent of Indigenous respondents reported some form of discrimination in health care.
Fifty-two per cent of Indigenous health-care workers reported experiencing racial prejudice at work.
Thirteen per cent of health-care workers made racist comments in the survey.
“I avoid the hospital at all costs because as an Indigenous person I feel unsafe and feel like they won’t bother treating me,” reads one of the submissions to the review.
The review found current education and training programs inadequate for those in the health-care system. There are concerns women and girls are disproportionally impacted and the complaints process for Indigenous peoples does not work.
Turpel-Lafond is putting forward 24 recommendations to government, including improving accountability, legislative changes, and an improved complaint process.
There are also recommendations focused on mandatory health professional education, better public education about Indigenous history and health, and a new School for Indigenous Medicine.
The review also recommends that the province establish three key new positions to provide leadership on the issue: a B.C. Indigenous health officer, a B.C. Indigenous health representative and advocate and an associate deputy minister of Indigenous health.
“It’s critical that all Indigenous people feel safe when getting health care,” Turpel-Lafond said.
“We know that eliminating racism requires humility, anti-racist mindsets and tools, and human rights approaches. And I recognize that we must take steps to foster a speak-up culture where people can raise and address these issues without retribution.”
According to the report, medical professionals will often guess the blood alcohol level of various patients and could be “clinically appropriate.” But the review also found “extensive profiling of Indigenous patients” based on stereotypes.
The province has appointed Dawn Thomas, Island Health’s vice-president of Indigenous health and diversity, equity and inclusion, as acting deputy health minister and will oversee a task force to implement recommendations and bring about system-wide changes.
The First Nations Leadership Council is calling for immediate government action to address the recommendations.
“The extent of systemic racism identified by Dr. Turpel-Lafond is very disheartening. Every person in this province deserves to have access to the same level of quality healthcare regardless of race or colour,” First Nations Summit Political Executive Cheryl Casimer said.
“It is offensive to know that there are Indigenous people in B.C. that are afraid to seek medical treatment because of the racism they may face. Our health-care system must be one based on equality and cultural inclusion.”
— With files from The Canadian Press