An independent investigation by Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has laid out 24 recommendations to address what she called a “widespread and insidious” problem with racism against Indigenous peoples in B.C.’s health care system.
The former child and youth watchdog was appointed by Health Minister Adrian Dix earlier this year to probe allegations of a “Price is Right” style game taking place in emergency rooms and hospitals around the province. It was alleged that nurses and doctors were making a game out of guessing the alcohol-blood level of patients, particularly those who were Indigenous.
While there was no evidence found to confirm such a game was being played in B.C. hospital emergency departments, Turpel-Lafond said in a news conference Monday (Nov. 30) that she did find clear evidence of a lack of cultural safety and hundreds of examples of prejudice and racism throughout the entire B.C. health care system.
“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,” she noted.
From the launch of the investigation in July to its conclusion, almost 9,000 people participated in online and telephone surveys, including more than 2,700 Indigenous peoples and 5,400 health workers. Key informant interviews were also carried out.
The surveys found 84 per cent of Indigenous respondents have experienced some form of discrimination in health care and 52 per cent of Indigenous health-care workers reported personally experiencing racial prejudice at work.
More than one-third of non-Indigenous health care workers personally witnessed racism or discrimination directed at Indigenous patients, noted Turpel-Lafond.
To address the widespread systemic racism, a total of 24 recommendations that take a strong human rights approach consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People have been issued.
At the news conference, Dix issued a public apology and said he would be directing the health ministry to immediately work with their Indigenous and Metis partners to implement the recommendations.
In addition, five new Indigenous health liaison workers will be added to each B.C. health authority. Dawn Thomas, Island Health’s vice president of Indigenous health and diversity, will serve as associate deputy minister to lead the recommendations’ implementation. A task force will also be established.
Both the 1-800 number and survey email used within the investigation to report instances of racism in the B.C. healthcare system will remain active until there is action underway on an effective complaints process.
“Racism is toxic for people, and it’s toxic for care,” Dix said.
“I want to make an unequivocal apology as the minister of health to those who have experienced racism in accessing healthcare in British Columbia now and in the past.”