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Indigenous people avoid B.C. hospitals known to be 'racist hotspots,' says friendship centre head
VANCOUVER -- Racism is so pervasive in some B.C. hospitals that Indigenous people avoid seeking help in known “hotspots,” says the executive director of the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres.
"I know in some communities, it's known what the racist hotspots are, and I know people who will drive past that hospital to go to another, to go to the next one available,” Leslie Varley told CTV News Vancouver.
Often, the racism people experience in hospital plays out with an assumption being made around alcohol.
“Indigenous people are often asked - the first thing they're asked – is how much have you had to drink today?” Varley said.
On Friday, B.C. health minister Adrian Dix announced he had been made aware of a disturbing allegation: that in some B.C. emergency rooms, health-care workers are playing a “game” to guess the blood alcohol level of patients, “in particular Indigenous people.”
Dix called the alleged behaviour “intolerable, unacceptable, and racist," and promised the allegation would be thoroughly investigated. He said the government had already moved to appoint Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s former representative for children and families, to lead the investigation.
Varley pointed out that the B.C. government has been made aware of a report completed in 2019 that detailed the many ways Indigenous people are discriminated against in health care.
The report was prepared by the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training Program, which is operated by the Provincial Health Services Authority. It includes anonymous testimony from participants of the training program, who are “people who are working across the health-care system in British Columbia,” according to the report.
One participant said they had seen paramedics, nurses and doctors act dismissively towards Indigenous men who had “long-standing alcoholism,” and who were not treated properly for inter-cranial hemorrhages, which can lead to stroke. The participant said they knew of three cases where Indigenous men had not received proper treatment, such as a CT scan, and later died.
Others raised concerns about witnessing Indigenous people being made to wait for hours to get treatment for painful injuries, or avoiding treatment altogether because of past experiences.
“I was with a young woman who let her illness go on so long because of the discrimination she faced the previous times coming to hospital,” one health-care worker reported.
“She discussed the racial slurs she had experienced. I am learning, through this teaching, that I did not do everything I could have, but she eloquently articulated how her care had been impacted due to her race.”
The blood alcohol guessing game allegation also came from participants in the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training Program, according to the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres and Metis Nation BC.
Varley said she herself avoids the health care system “as much as possible – because I’m afraid.”
She said the health authorities already know where the “racist hotspots” are in the province. “This data has been published internally for some time,” she said.
With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Bhinder Sajan.