84% of Indigenous patients have experienced discrimination in BC healthcare

Nov 30 2020, 11:28 am

A new report has found 84% of Indigenous patients have experienced some form of discrimination in BC’s healthcare system.

The staggering figures come after BC Health Minister Adrian Dix ordered a review earlier this year following allegations that The Price Is Right-style games were being played by staff in BC hospitals to guess the blood-alcohol level of Indigenous patients.

The review was led by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who practises as senior associate counsel at Woodward and Company and is a member of Saskatchewan’s Muskeg Lake Cree Nation.  On Monday, Turpel-Lafond presented her findings, stating that she found no evidence to substantiate the allegation that the game was being played and that “if such games did occur in the past, they are not occurring today.”

However, “there are episodic, anecdotal reports that resemble these allegations, none could be described as prevalent, widespread or targeting only Indigenous patients,” she said.

As well, more than one-third of non-Indigenous healthcare workers reported that they personally witnessed racism or discrimination directed to Indigenous patients, and 52% of Indigenous healthcare workers reported experiencing racial prejudice at work – the majority in the form of discriminatory comments by colleagues.

“Indigenous people and healthcare workers have spoken clearly – racism is an ugly and undeniable problem in BC healthcare that must be urgently addressed,” said Turpel-Lafond.

Informed by the voices of nearly 9,000 Indigenous patients, family members, third-party witnesses, and healthcare workers, as well as health data analysis, the review found evidence of pervasive interpersonal and systemic 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 BC healthcare system,” Turpel-Lafond said. “That doesn’t mean every Indigenous person who gets healthcare will experience direct or indirect racism, but it does mean that any Indigenous person could experience it.”

More than two-thirds of Indigenous respondents to the review’s Indigenous Peoples’ Survey said they had experienced discrimination based on their ancestry — and only 16% reported “never” having been discriminated against — while accessing healthcare. More than one-third of non-Indigenous respondents to the Health Care Workers’ Survey reported having witnessed interpersonal racism or discrimination against Indigenous patients or their families and friends.

The review examined health utilization and outcome data of approximately 185,000 First Nations and Métis patients, data showing that racism limits access to medical treatment and can negatively affect the health and wellness of Indigenous peoples. In particular, the review found that Indigenous women are disproportionately impacted by racism in healthcare and that racism contributes to Indigenous people being disproportionately affected by the current public health emergencies of COVID-19 and the overdose crisis.

“Many of the accounts we heard were deeply disturbing, had clearly caused significant harm, and created lasting mistrust and fear of the healthcare system,” said Turpel-Lafond. “I thank Indigenous people and healthcare workers across BC for having the courage to share their stories and to help us to shine a light on this important issue.”

The report makes 24 recommendations to address what is a systemic problem, deeply rooted in colonialism, and recommends that the Province establish three key positions to provide leadership on the issue:

  • a BC Indigenous health officer;
  • a BC Indigenous health representative and advocate;
  • an associate deputy minister of Indigenous health.

“It’s critical that all Indigenous people feel safe when getting healthcare,” Turpel-Lafond said. “We know that eliminating racism requires humility, anti-racist mindsets and tools, and human rights approaches.”

Today’s report, she said, “provides a blueprint for fundamental changes to beliefs, behaviours and systems that are necessary in order for us to root out racism and discrimination and ensure that the basic human rights of Indigenous people to respect, dignity and equitable healthcare are upheld.”

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