A former judge and independent watchdog is investigating allegations of racist games played in B.C. emergency rooms in which health care workers guessed the blood alcohol levels of Indigenous patients.
Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the investigation on Friday, calling the allegations “beyond disappointing.” Such games would be racist, he said, and would have an obvious negative effect on patient care.
The Métis Nation BC reported the allegation to the ministry on June 18, said the organization’s chief executive officer, Daniel Fontaine. During an online Indigenous cultural safety training program, a health care worker described a game in which emergency room staff predicted what the blood alcohol level of Indigenous patients would be, Mr. Fontaine said in an interview. He said it appears to be played at multiple hospitals.
“One of the workers said that they play a game called ‘Price is Right,' where we guess what the blood alcohol level is, and you have to be the closest to the actual test results, but you can’t go over,” he said. “They were giving a very detailed accounting of this game, and that was captured in this training program and, of course, it got out and was brought to my attention.”
Mr. Dix said he learned of the allegations on the evening of June 18 from his deputy minister, and asked Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond that night to lead the independent investigation.
While reports of racist treatment of Indigenous patients are common, the idea of wagering on alcohol was a “punch in the gut,” said Cheryl Casimer, political executive of the First Nations Summit Task Group. She said she trusts Ms. Turpel-Lafond to conduct a thorough investigation, but the province will ultimately have to deal with those who participated in the game.
“We need to know who these individuals are and where do they practice,” Ms. Casimer said. “We’re calling for the highest level of discipline for those individuals, because we don’t need those individuals in the health care system.”
The Hospital Employees’ Union said the “shameful and sickening behaviour” needs to be addressed quickly.
The BC Nurses’ Union offered its support for the investigation and said the union is committed to fighting racism, but declined to comment further until after the investigation.
Premier John Horgan condemned the alleged actions in a statement: “I am outraged by reports of ugly, anti-Indigenous, racist behaviour at multiple health-care facilities in B.C.,” he said. “This behaviour degrades the standards and provisions of health care in our province. It cannot stand. There is no excuse.”
Just a day earlier, the Premier said the province needs to start collecting race and ethnicity-based data across ministries to help inform government policy. He asked the province’s privacy watchdog to help find a way to allow the data to be gathered.
Mr. Dix declined to say where the alleged incidents took place or when, saying no one has been disciplined and the allegations have not been proven.
He said he wants to await the findings of Ms. Turpel-Lafond, the first Indigenous woman appointed to Saskatchewan’s provincial bench, and who earned a reputation as a strong and fearless investigator when she was B.C.‘s first representative for children and youth.
“She will follow the facts, wherever they lead,” Mr. Dix told reporters. He said he will make her findings public.
Mr. Dix said the allegations underscore a broader problem. “It is beyond dispute that there are people who have suffered in our province from systemic racism in many fields, and health care is one of those.”
Mr. Fontaine said a March, 2019, report by the Provincial Health Services Authority found that Indigenous people face racism when seeking medical care. He said he expects the province’s investigation to look into incidents outlined in that report.
“I don’t know why we couldn’t have done this when that report was compiled,” he said. “I’m hoping that Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond will find out who knew about these reports, when did they know about them, why was no action taken, and why are we talking about this in June, 2020, when this was all catalogued months, if not years, ago.”
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