Report finds ‘widespread’ anti-Indigenous racism in B.C. health system

VICTORIA — A report into anti-Indigenous discrimination in British Columbia’s health-care system has found “hundreds of examples of prejudice and racism” in health facilities across the province.

The report, released Monday, is the result of an investigation into allegations that emergency room staff were playing a racist game to guess the blood-alcohol level of Indigenous patients.

The report found no specific evidence that such games were being played in B.C. emergency rooms, finding only “episodic, anecdotal reports that resemble these allegations” but “none could be described as widespread or targeting only Indigenous patients.”

However, the review did find “clear evidence of a much more widespread and insidious problem,” according to independent investigator Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who was hired in June to lead the review.

“We should all find that conclusion deeply troubling,” Turpel-Lafond said Monday.

As part of the investigation, nearly 9,000 people, including health-care workers and Indigenous patients, were surveyed on their experiences in the health-care system.

Approximately 84 per cent of Indigenous respondents reported experiencing some form of discrimination in health care. More than half of Indigenous health-care workers – 52 per cent – reported personally experiencing racial prejudice at work, mostly in the form of discriminatory comments from colleagues.

More than one-third of non-Indigenous health workers reported witnessing discrimination targeting Indigenous patients, and 13 per cent of health-care workers actually made racist comments in their survey responses.

Turpel-Lafond found widespread racial profiling of Indigenous people in health care, and found the behaviour disproportionately affects women and girls.

The problem doesn’t only impact patients but health-care workers and students as well, according to the report.

Common stereotypes targeting Indigenous people in health care include assumptions of alcoholism, bad parenting and non-compliance with health authorities.

Those stereotypes lead to discrimination, including abusive interactions with health-care staff, denial of service and inappropriate pain management. That discrimination in turn contributes to poorer health outcomes for Indigenous communities, according to the report.

Turpel-Lafond made 24 recommendations to address racism in the health-care system, including asking for a formal apology from the B.C. Health Minister.

Health Minister Adrian Dix issued an apology during a press conference Monday morning, immediately following the release of the report.

“I want to make an unequivocal apology as the minister of health to those who have experienced racism in accessing health care services in British Columbia now and in the past,” Dix said.

“My apology today is an acknowledgement of the pain that Indigenous people have borne from racism,” he added. “It is a first step, however. I will recommend to the premier to sit down immediately to work out our government’s response.”

Other recommendations include changes to the complaint process around discrimination and improved internal reporting on the issue.

The review also recommends increasing Indigenous leadership in health care and better education about Indigenous health history, including establishing a new school for Indigenous medicine.

Dix announced that five new Indigenous health liaison positions will be added in each health authority in B.C. He said all recommendations of the report would be addressed.

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