indigenous racism b.c.

B.C. hospital staff accused of betting on blood-alcohol levels of Indigenous patients

British Columbia's Ministry of Health has launched an investigation into reports of widespread racism within the province's healthcare system following serious and disturbing allegations of a racist "game" being played in hospital emergency rooms.

"If this is true, it's intolerable, unacceptable and racist," said B.C. health minister Adrian Dix of the alleged ER game during a news conference on Friday. "Actions like this profoundly affect patient care." 

Métis Nation British Columbia (MNBC) explained what an unidentified number of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff had been accused of doing to Indigenous patients in a statement released Sunday, calling the behaviour "a common game played within B.C. hospital emergency rooms."

"Emergency room staff regularly play 'Price is Right' when predicting blood alcohol level of Indigenous patients," reads the statement.

"Physicians, nurses and other staff try to guess the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of Indigenous patients. The winner of the game guesses closest to the BAC - without going over."

No specific hospital staffers or locations have been publicly identified, but Dix has appointed former judge and children's advocate Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond to begin investigating the situation immediately.

Turpel-Lafond said on Friday that she is aware of at least one related incident involving "a range of people." 

"Clearly, if there's any workplace in British Columbia where people are playing games at the health or expense of Indigenous people, one can only expect someone in those roles to face severe consequences," she said.

Indigenous leaders say that people in B.C. have already long been suffering the severe consequences of racism among medical professionals in hospitals.

"There remains a lack of will to address systemic and specific racism towards Métis, First Nation and Inuit people," said Leslie Varley, Executive Director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres (BCAAFC), in the MNBC release on Sunday.

 "We know that our people avoid hospitals because we are afraid of having a discriminatory encounter. This happens to the point where Indigenous people end up in emergency with extreme diagnosis, like cancer."

B.C. health authorities have similarly issued a joint statement condemning the alleged BAC betting, writing that "if true, this activity would be evidence of systemic racism and discrimination, underscoring the significant health disparities Indigenous people in our province experience."

"We take reports of this nature extremely seriously," reads the statement, signed by seven health system CEOs. 

"To be clear: discriminatory behaviour in any B.C. health care facility is unacceptable and violates our principles, policies and values."

Both the BCAAF and the MNBC are asking B.C. to implement a standard, mandatory cultural sensitivity training program for health service workers in the province, similar to what Ontario did in 2016 with the San'yas program for all public service employees.

They are also calling upon the government to conduct "a public inquiry into Indigenous specific racism in health care," to allow Indigenous governments to play a stronger role in the development of anti-racism programs, and to "commit to structural and systemic changes to dismantle Indigenous specific racism to ensure culturally safe health care experiences for Indigenous people."

Lead photo by

Province of British Columbia

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