Indigenous people in British Columbia are exposed to widespread racism that often results in negative experiences at the point of care, inequitable medical treatment, physical harm and even death, the independent review into Indigenous-specific discrimination in the province’s health-care system has found.
Informed by the voices of nearly 9,000 Indigenous patients, family members, third-party witnesses and health-care workers, as well as unprecedented analysis of health data, the review found clear evidence of pervasive interpersonal and systemic racism that adversely affects not only patient and family experiences but also long-term health outcomes for Indigenous peoples.
The report, In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care, concludes that this problem is widely acknowledged by many who work in the system, including those in leadership positions. The report makes 24 recommendations to address what is a systemic problem, deeply rooted in colonialism.
“Indigenous people and health-care workers have spoken clearly – racism is an ugly and undeniable problem in B.C. health care that must be urgently addressed,” said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, independent reviewer. “This report provides a blueprint for fundamental changes to beliefs, behaviours and systems that are necessary in order for us to root out racism and discrimination and ensure that the basic human rights of Indigenous people to respect, dignity and equitable health care are upheld.”
The Addressing Racism Review was launched in June 2020 by Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, after allegations were made about an organized “Price is Right” game involving guessing Indigenous patients’ blood alcohol levels in B.C. hospital emergency rooms. A detailed examination of those allegations found no evidence of an organized game occurring as originally depicted. The review found anecdotal and episodic evidence of multiple activities that resemble these allegations in some fashion, but none of them could be described as organized, widespread or targeting only Indigenous patients.
“Nevertheless, our review found clear evidence of a much more widespread and insidious problem – a lack of cultural safety and hundreds of examples of prejudice and racism throughout the entire B.C. health-care system,” Turpel-Lafond said. “That doesn’t mean every Indigenous person who gets health care will experience direct or indirect racism, but it does mean that any Indigenous person could experience it.
“Many of the accounts we heard were deeply disturbing, had clearly caused significant harm, and created lasting mistrust and fear of the health-care system. I thank Indigenous people and health-care workers across B.C. for having the courage to share their stories and to help us to shine a light on this important issue.”