OPINION: Addressing systemic racism in health care | Squamish Chief

OPINION: Addressing systemic racism in health care

I ended up in the ER this weekend. Being the klutz I am, I bruised myself head to toe and messed up a finger — falling in the bathroom.

Everyone at the hospital was amazing and kind.

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In fact, I have never had a bad experience in any ER.

I have never wondered, here or anywhere, as I sat anxiously holding a sick kid, or the hand of my sick husband or doubled over in pain myself, if the doctors or nurses will think I am an addict or drunk because of the colour of my skin.

Or treat my relatives with less compassion for that reason.

That is my white privilege showing, it seems.

Not everyone has the same experience accessing health care.

Former judge and provincial child advocate Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is leading the independent investigation into not just the “game” allegedly played in some emergency rooms that involved guessing the blood alcohol count of Indigenous patients, but into all racism in B.C. health care.

What she has found already, she said July 9, just weeks into the investigation, is that she is hearing stories of racism encountered in every single health region in B.C.

Every. Single. One.

Of course, let’s assume that the vast majority of nurses and doctors are the compassionate heroes we cheer for. Most are, I am sure.

Minister of Health Adrian Dix appointed Turpel-Lafond on June 19, after the highly disturbing allegations of racism in emergency rooms were reported.

There is now a survey to collect and assess the experiences of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people when they access health care.

 “Based on the emails, calls and stories we have received so far, it is very much needed,” Turpel-Lafond said in a news release.

Coun. Chris Syeta’xtn Lewis, a spokesperson for the Nation, told The Squamish Chief that the need is not surprising.

“This story isn’t news to our people. We hear directly from our members of their experiences of racism and stereotyping as they seek health care. This investigation is long overdue, but it’s great to see Mary Ellen leading the work,” he said.

“She is a tireless advocate for our people and we fully expect the investigation will uncover something we, as Indigenous peoples, have known all along: that systemic racism exists in our health care system. We remain optimistic that this will highlight the urgent need for real, systemic change. We will be actively encouraging our members to participate in the survey and share their experiences of racism in the B.C. health care system.”

That survey is now available on the Addressing Racism investigation website: engage.gov.bc.ca/addressingracism/

Rooting out racism is also is going to take medical professionals to step forward and speak their truth.

Anybody with specific experience or knowledge of racism in the health care system can also share information at 1-888-600-3078 or Addressing_Racism@gov.bc.ca.

It is time.

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