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Head of Island Health says Saanich Peninsula Hospital not part of racist guessing game

Tsartlip First Nations Chief Don Tom welcomes changes following report but promises future scrutiny
Kathy MacNeil, president and chief executive officer of Island Health, Dawn Thomas, acting deputy health minister and Island Health’s vice president, Indigenous health and diversity and Chief Don Tom of Tsartlip First Nation, stand out Saanich Peninsula Hospital Tuesday morning, when they also answered questions about a new report that “widespread systemic racism against Indigenous people” in the provincial health care system. (Island Health/Submitted)

The president and chief executive officer of Island Health denies the Saanich Peninsula was the site of a game involving medical staff guessing blood alcohol levels of Indigenous patients.

“What can I say based on the review and the report findings, there is no evidence of that game here at Saanich Peninsula,” said Kathy MacNeil during a media conference following an invitation by Chief Don Tom of Tsartlip First Nation. “And in June, when those allegations came forward, I immediately issued a message, that if there was anything happening like that, it [should] stop immediately and the local leadership here, medical staff in particular, were very clear that that game did not occur here.”

When the allegations first made their way into the public this summer, Island Health would not confirm the identity of the hospital from where the allegations emerged.

Those allegations led to a meeting between Island Health and local First Nations.

Tom said his immediate family members have “seen and felt” improvements at the Peninsula hospital. “When you are treated with dignity and respect, it certainly goes a long way,” he said. “Right now, I am pleased to hear the steps that Island Health has taken, because it is necessary.”

Local First Nations have no other option than to access Saanich Peninsula, he said, adding that local community members and leaders will hold Island Health accountable for implementing the recommendations.

The provincial government tasked Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond to investigate the allegations as part of a broad review of the provincial health care system and its treatment of Indigenous people.

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While Turpel-Lafond did not find evidence to substantiate allegations of such a guessing game being played in “any organized” fashion, she found “episodic” evidence of such a game without naming any specific hospitals, while promising additional information at a later date. She also did not comment directly on the whether such a game took place Saanich Peninsula Hospital, but identified it as a facility where “significant work” has happened to improve relations.

She did report finding “widespread systemic racism against Indigenous people” in the provincial health care system and that prompted a Dec. 1 press conference featuring MacNeil as well as two figures expected to play major roles as the recommendations found in the report are translated into action. Dawn Thomas, Island Health’s vice president, Indigenous health and diversity and Tom of Tsartlip First Nation.

Thomas will head a task force to implement the recommendations in bringing out system-wide changes following her appointment as acting deputy health minister, while Tom will have political influence through his familiarity with local conditions as well as his position as vice-president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

Tom said during his opening remarks that First Nations are not surprised by the findings of the report, adding that Island Health has heard concerns about racism in the health care system before.

MacNeil promised that Island Health is committed to fulfilling the recommendations.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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