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Indigenous woman alleges racist encounter at southern Alberta hospital

Click to play video: '‘I am scared to go to Cardston again’: Indigenous woman alleges racism at southern Alberta hospital' ‘I am scared to go to Cardston again’: Indigenous woman alleges racism at southern Alberta hospital
WATCH: Hess filed an appeal with the College of College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, but that was also dismissed. – Apr 14, 2021

An Indigenous woman from Lethbridge says she was racially profiled after seeking medical attention in Cardston, Alta. on March 25.

Marissa Smoke said she called an ambulance from Stand Off after suffering severe abdominal pain while at work, and told Global News she was given morphine on the way to the nearest hospital.

“The ambulance came, and I told them some of my issues and what my fears were,” she said.

Read more: High school student project on Indigenous culture endorsed by Alberta school division

Smoke, who suffers chronic pain, said once she arrived at the Cardston Health Centre, things went downhill.

“I remember going in-and-out of consciousness and telling them some of my main concerns, and I woke up and that’s when they were there in front of me.”

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According to Smoke, medical staff believed she may have been suffering an ectopic pregnancy – and wanted to send her to Lethbridge for emergency surgery — which she did not feel was the case.

Smoke decided to pull out her cell phone and start recording. She uploaded the seven-minute clip to Facebook two days after the incident. 

In the video, a nurse can be heard yelling at Smoke to “stop acting” like an idiot.

“We’re just here to help you,” the female nurse is heard saying. “We don’t need to take your shit and for you to give us attitude.”

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Smoke said she didn’t feel safe, and wanted to call a friend to take her for help elsewhere. She ended up receiving treatment in Raymond, Alta. where she said medical staff denied her needing the operation.

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She alleges Cardston staff insinuated she was lying about her pain as a way to get medication.

“I definitely felt racially-profiled, because I was supposedly lying about a pregnancy and not dealing with the real issue,” Smoke said.  “Just because I’m Indigenous doesn’t mean I have an addiction to opiates.”

Dr. Lloyd Clarke, who also practices at the Cardston Clinic, was also seen in the video urging Smoke not to leave. He is heard asking Smoke to do an exercise with her while she asks to sign release papers.

“I’m going to have you arrested unless you do this with me,” Clarke said in the video.

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Ingrid Hess, a Lethbridge-based lawyer, is representing Smoke. Upon viewing the video, she was disturbed by the conduct of the medical professionals involved.

“To threaten to take somebody’s liberty away is a pretty serious matter,” Hess said. “To do so cavalierly like ‘I can just, with a stroke of a pen, take your rights away’ is quite a disturbing thing, from my perspective.”

“From a legal perspective, I don’t think he simply has the rights, there are standards that he would have to meet.”

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Hess has dealt with accusations against Clarke pertaining to alleged racist behavior in the past.

Nearly three years ago, she filed a complaint regarding an incident outside a grocery store in Cardston involving homeless Indigenous people. 

“He approached them and berated them for the fact that they were gathering outside of the store,” Hess explained “He also teased them about Tylenol 3s.”

Documents obtained by Global News show Clarke had written a letter apologizing for his behavior, but denied being racist.

“Let me, first of all, say that I regret the choice of words and the tone I used on May 25, 2018,” the letter read. “However, I deny being racist and my comments that day, while inappropriate, were not racist. If given the opportunity, I would like to apologize to the individuals involved for my hurtful comments.”

Ultimately, the complaint was dismissed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta after it “determined that there is insufficient evidence of unprofessional conduct to move forward with further investigation into Dr. Lloyd’s conduct.”

Hess filed an appeal with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA), but that was also dismissed. In the appeal, Clarke’s representative told the college that doctor “has strong and positive connections with members of the community” and “more than half his patient panel is Indigenous, and that no complaints have arisen from his clinical practice”

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Now, Smoke and Hess have filed complaints to the CPSA, the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA), and Alberta Health Services regarding the March 25 incident.

In a statement to Global News, AHS says they have launched an investigation.

“We are currently investigating this matter and will take any necessary actions once that investigation is complete. We will continue to be available to the patient involved to answer any questions or concerns brought forward,” the statement reads.

It goes on to say racism and discrimination have no place within the organization.

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“Alberta Health Services (AHS) is focused on delivering patient and family-centered care through which patients feel their perspectives and concerns are listened to, they are treated with empathy and understanding, their values are respected, and their emotional needs (including fears and anxieties) are responded to,” it reads.

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“We are committed to maintaining a culture of respect and compassion so that patients receive the best possible healthcare experience. We know that trust is a significant barrier to First Nations, Métis and Inuit people accessing the healthcare system, and acknowledge that institutional racism and stereotyping has kept people from getting the care they need. We also know that the relationships between AHS and First Nations, Métis and Inuit Albertans must continue to improve, and we are committed to building, nurturing and growing those relationships.”

Global News reached out to the Cardston Clinic seeking comment from Clarke but was told he was unavailable.

Hess believes Smoke’s encounter is just the tip of the iceberg, and many more situations like these might be happening behind closed doors.

“Or whole health-care system, in my view, needs to look more closely at these issues of bias and how they impact how people are treated,” Hess said.

“I think that we actually have to start calling out violence and addressing it,” Smoke added. “How are we supposed to have hope with no health care? No respect?”

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