Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond
(Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond/BC Government Facebook)

A report investigating allegations of a racist “guessing game” has uncovered evidence of widespread racism in BC’s healthcare system.

The independent report’s author, Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, told reporters on Monday that while she found only isolated incidents of the “Price is Right” style game that spurred the review, she was able to collect evidence showing a much larger problem.

“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.

Among the findings, the report said that in a survey of indigenous people, 84 per cent reported some form of discrimination in the health care system.

A majority of indigenous health care workers (52 per cent) also said they had personally experienced racial prejudice while at work.

“I am afraid to go to any hospital. When I do have to, I dress up like I’m going to church [in order to receive proper treatment] It’s ridiculous,” said one testimonial.

In another disturbing statistic, 13 per cent of health care workers who responded to another survey conducted by the review made racist comments in their replies.

“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.

In her recommendations, Dr. Turpel-Lafond called on the government to establish and appoint three new roles:

  • a B.C. Indigenous health officer;
  • a B.C. Indigenous health representative and advocate; and
  • an associate deputy minister of Indigenous health

She also recommended that the public interest disclosure act, which protects whistleblowers, be expanded to apply to the health care sector.

Health Minister Adrian Dix offered his personal apologies on Monday to people who have experienced racism in B.C.’s health care system.

“Racism is toxic for people, and it’s toxic for care,” said Dix. “Hospitals and clinics must be places of trust and comfort.”

He also pledged to sit down with Premier John Horgan immediately as a first step towards the report’s first recommendation, which calls for an official apology from the government.

In Horgan’s mandate letter to Dix from November 26, 2020, Dix is instructed to address systemic racism in the health care system.

On Monday, Dix announced the government would immediately create five new indigenous health liaison positions for each health authority.

“We all need to recognize and recommit to eradicating racism from our health care system,” the Minister said. “The situation as it exists and as is depicted in the details of this report, cannot stand.”

The full report can be viewed online on the Government of BC website.

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