MLA Adam Olsen says a new report finding “widespread systemic racism against Indigenous people” in the provincial health care system does not surprise Indigenous people and considers it a necessary but insufficient step in calling for a more comprehensive approach.
Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands as well as a member of the Tsartlip Nation, made those comments after Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond issued a report confirming “widespread systemic racism against Indigenous people” within the provincial health care system. While it did not substantiate allegations that staff in hospital emergency departments played a game where they guessed blood alcohol level of Indigenous patients and possibly others in “any organized, coordinated way,” the report nonetheless found evidence of “episodic examples of guessing in some places” without identifying said places.
The report prompted a public apology from health minister Adrian Dix.
“It needs to be pointed out that this situation has been well-known among Indigenous people,” said Olsen. While Olsen said he is thankful the report has come out, the provincial government must now follow through on its recommendations as quickly as possible.
“I think the (report) recognized that this is not just a health care issue,” he said. “It is certainly an all-of-government issue that requires an all-of-government approach that starts at the very top. I’m certainly happy to hear Minister Dix offer an apology [and] looking forward to that from the premier. You cannot address systemic racism one silo at a time.”
Turpel-Lafond’s report is likely to generate more interest on the Saanich Peninsula than in other parts of the province, as the region is home to some 2,500 Indigenous people. Olsen, a member of the Tsartlip Nation, representing the riding in the provincial legislature. Its hospital, Saanich Peninsula Hospital, also found itself in the spotlight before and after Turpel-Lafond’s report.
She said the hospital has “witnessed significant change” in terms of the quality of service and the relationship-building between Indigenous and non-Indigenous, a statement that can be read as a public concession that the hospital has had issues.
“I have had a lot of conversations with Island Health executives,” said Olsen. “They acknowledge that there are issues throughout their health care system. I take it [Turpel-Lafond’s comments] for what it is.”
Olsen said Island Health leadership took these allegations very seriously. “As it was the only hospital that was publicly noted as experiencing this, it is incumbent upon them to make sure that they reviewed all their procedures and practices,” he said.
When these allegations first made their way into the public this summer, Island Health did not confirm the identity of the hospital from where the allegations emerged. Ultimately, Olsen suggests that question might of secondary importance in light of the larger issued raised by the report.
“Whether or not it did happen and this was the indeed the health facility, the reality is that this situation has put a magnifying glass on that particular health care facility,” he said. “And whether or not that was happening, it was going to impact whether or not Indigenous people would feel safe accessing emergency health care there.”
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