Provincial News

B.C. investigates claims of hospital racism where staff guessed alcohol level

By The Canadian Press

Published 12:48 PDT, Fri June 19, 2020

Last Updated: 1:31 PDT, Fri June 19, 2020

VANCOUVER — British Columbia's premier says there's no excuse for "dehumanizing behaviour" as part of alleged racism by some emergency room staff accused of playing a game to guess the blood-alcohol levels of Indigenous patients.

"I am outraged by reports of ugly, anti-Indigenous, racist behaviour at multiple health-care facilities in B.C.," John Horgan said in a statement Friday after Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the launch of an investigation.

"No one should worry that when they visit a hospital that they will be prejudged and given a lower standard of care," Horgan said. "If confirmed, this is a heartbreaking example of systemic racism in our province."

Dix said he was made aware of the alleged "abhorrent practices" on Thursday evening involving ER staff who would guess test results before they were confirmed of Indigenous people and perhaps others.

"The game involved guessing the blood-alcohol level of patients, essentially in advance or during their treatment. Obviously, playing a game of that sort is beyond unacceptable," he told reporters on a conference call.

"If substantiated, these practices are racist and unacceptable," he said.

Dix has asked B.C.'s former children's advocate, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who has also been a provincial court judge in Saskatchewan, to investigate the allegations.

The minister declined to say which hospital or hospitals were involved, saying the facts must first be established.

"It tells us why we have so far to go," he said of the allegations. "It tells us, as if we needed to know, that systemic racism has not just existed in our country but exists in our country and has impacts on all walks of life."

Dix said his deputy minister, Stephen Brown, learned of the game from the community and from within the system.

The allegations required an immediate response and if proven, would have profoundly affected patient care, he said, adding he will work with First Nations Health Council and the First Nations Health Authority to address their concerns about systemic racism.

Dix said he has previously heard about such issues when the province announced new hospitals that would involve First Nations doing part of the construction.

"Without exception I learn of how people have felt about the history of the existing buildings," he said. "When I meet with First Nations leaders and Metis leaders and others of course we hear of stories and circumstances where people are not treated well in the health-care system," he said.

Similar issues of racism in the health-care system are bound to surface, Dix said.

"It would be my hope, but I say this with all caution, that this would be a moment where we can continue and advance and speed up the work we're doing on reconciliation."

— Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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