“Devastating, troubling and abhorrent” are words a Greater Victoria politician used to describe allegations levelled against the Saanich Peninsula Hospital that staff participated in racist acts currently under investigation by the province.
Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, interim leader of the B.C. Green Party and member of Tsartlip First Nation, issued a statement Wednesday saying he is well aware of pervasive racism in B.C.’s health care system but hearing of such blatant discrimination was “devastating.”
Olsen’s statement comes in response to Friday’s announcement that the Ministry of Health is investigating allegations of emergency room doctors and nurses playing a “game” where they guess the blood alcohol level of Indigenous patients and possibly others.
“It is devastating to hear about such blatant acts of racism, not just because the incidents themselves are abhorrent, but because it speaks to a work environment in which they were not only tolerated, but trivialized,” Olsen said. “Let’s be clear: nothing about this is a ‘game’ and I am deeply saddened to hear it referred to as such.”
Black Press Media has learned that the “game” played by hospital staff was akin to the TV show Price is Right. B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix announced Friday that Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed by the province to look into the allegations.
Speaking with Black Press Media, Olsen said there needs to be immediate action so that members of Indigenous communities will feel safe accessing health care.
“What I would like to hear is, what are the plans to address the immediate need to ensure there is competence in that healthcare facility?” he said. “Nothing about it this is a ‘game.’ This is the health and well-being of people.”
Ron Rice, executive director of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, said racism is the reason many Indigenous people avoid seeking health care at all.
“The reality is even if you are getting into these situations where they are playing this game around you, that’s a step up from a lot of people who wouldn’t go to the hospital in emergency situations, because they don’t think they will be treated with any care or concern.”
Rice said racism in the health care system is not isolated to the allegations facing the Saanich Peninsula Hospital.
“It’s good these things are being said, but what’s being done about it?” he asked. “We need to be putting pressure on the province, on the health authority, on the unions – the unions that represent these individuals should be holding these individuals to a certain standard.
“The whole system needs to weigh heavy on this, it’s not something we can sweep under a rug at this point.”
In a statement, Island Health said it fully supports the provincial investigation but did not confirm which hospital was involved in the allegations.
“Island Health’s CEO has been clear with all staff and medical staff, stating if this behavior is occurring – whether in an emergency department or any other service area – it must stop immediately,” the health authority said. “As an investigation is underway into these allegations, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
In March the Saanich Peninsula Hospital unveiled a new sign printed with an Indigenous name – LAU,WELNEW,AUTW – which translates to ‘place of healing.’ The sign was chosen by the WSANEC people and approved by chiefs from the four local First Nations.
With files from Ashley Wadhwani.