Island Health is expanding COVID-19 testing in Nanaimo with a new testing location at Vancouver Island University. (News Bulletin file photo)

Island Health issues apology over racist practices in health care system

Report by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond finds ‘widespread systemic racism against Indigenous people’

Island Health has joined health providers from across the province in accepting a new report finding “widespread systemic racism against Indigenous people” in the provincial health care system, while issuing an apology.

“In partnership with the Ministry of Health, we commit to implementing all recommendations within our responsibility to lead, and further commit to partner and support implementation of all others,” said Island Health in a joint statement. “We will undertake this work together with, and be guided by, Indigenous health and community leaders.”

Island Health joined Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health, Interior Health, Northern Health, Provincial Health Services, and Providence Health Care in the statement signed by top executives from the respective providers.

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Almost 9,000 people participated in online and telephone surveys, including more than 2,700 Indigenous peoples and 5,400 health workers as part of the report prepared by the Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. Its findings prompted a public apology from health minister Adrian Dix. Health authorities officials have since joined him.

“To the generations of Indigenous peoples who have lived these experiences, and those who continue to face harm, we apologize for our actions and our inaction in righting wrongs,” the joint statement from all B.C. health authorities. “To health authority Indigenous employees and physicians, we apologize to you as well for the impacts you have experienced.”

Turpel-Lafond’s report finds that 84 per cent of Indigenous respondents reported some form of discrimination in the health care system and some 52 per cent of Indigenous health care workers reported personally experiencing racial prejudice at work, the majority being in the form of discriminatory comments by colleagues.

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More than one-third of non-Indigenous health care workers personally witnessed racism or discrimination directed to Indigenous patients, according to the report, with 13 per cent of surveyed health care workers having made racist comments in the survey.

The provincial government tasked the report after allegations that staff in provincial hospital emergency departments played a game where staff guessed blood alcohol level of Indigenous patients and possibly others. While the report did not confirm the existence of such a game in “any organized, coordinated way,” it found “episodic” examples. But if this alleged game was the starting point of the report, its larger finding of systemic racism will likely resonate for a long time.

“We want to reinforce that racism has no place in our facilities, programs and services, or our society,” reads the joint statement.

“The absolute clarity of these words and what the words mean to those who receive care in our facilities, and through our programs and services, describe the work in front of us.”


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wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com

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