British Columbia

Upcoming inquiry into racism in B.C. health care to include whistleblower protection: health minister

Adrian Dix, B.C.'s health minister, provided more details about an upcoming investigation into racism in the health-care system, prompted by allegations ER staff were playing a "game" to guess the blood-alcohol level of Indigenous patients.

Inquiry prompted by allegations ER staff played 'game' to guess blood-alcohol level of Indigenous patients

The province has announced an investigation into allegations doctors and nurses working at some B.C. emergency departments play a game called the "Price is Right" where they try and guess the intoxication level of mainly Indigenous patients. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

 B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix has provided more details about an upcoming investigation into racism in the health-care system, prompted by allegations emergency room health-care workers were playing a "game" to guess the blood-alcohol level of Indigenous patients.

According to Métis Nation B.C. and the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, who brought forward the allegations, staff called the game "The Price Is Right." Physicians and nurses try to guess the blood-alcohol level of incoming patients they presumed to be Indigenous as closely as they could, without going over. 

B.C.'s First Nations leaders called the allegations "detestable" and "appalling", and Dix, at a news conference Friday, said the allegations, if true, were "abhorrent" and "intolerable." 

Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing Monday, Dix said he had met with a number of groups including the First Nations Health Council, the First Nations Health Authority and the Métis Nation B.C. over the weekend to discuss the inquiry, which is being headed by Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond, a former judge and longtime children's advocate in B.C. 

The Métis Nation B.C. issued a statement Sunday after meeting with Dix, calling for an anonymous tip line for witnesses and victims of racism in the health-care system.

Dix responded Monday that there will "certainly" be protection for whistleblowers during the investigation. He says the terms of reference for the inquiry — its scope and limitations — have not yet been finalized, and Turpel Lafond will be reaching out individually to different Indigenous groups as part of this process. 

Earlier anti-racism reports

Many Indigenous officials and British Columbians say stories like the blood-alcohol game are not surprising given the longstanding record of institutionalized racism within B.C's health-care system.

In fact, two recent think-tank reports released by Métis Nation B.C. give many recent examples of anti-Indigenous racism in B.C.'s health system. 

On Monday, Dix said he has not been provided with these two reports, including one from last year, but said some details of the second report were shared as part of a meeting on Wednesday, June 17.

The first report is a glossary used by an anti-racism think tank that convened in March 2019. It relies on data collected through an anti-racism training program for health workers.

The 15-page report details anonymized instances of overt racism witnessed within the health-care system: an Indigenous teen in unbearable pain from of a skateboarding accident ignored for hours in an emergency waiting room, a woman choosing to put up with a worsening medical condition rather than go back to the hospital where she was subjected to racial slurs, and doctors deeming Indigenous parents unfit to care for their baby with little or no evidence.

A second report was the final report of the think tank following the March conference, though Dix said it is still in the draft phase and has not been submitted officially to the ministry or the provincial health authority because of delays due to COVID-19. 

That report uses the stories as a jumping off point to describe the factors perpetuating systematic racism — lack of awareness, resistance to change, institutional practices that normalized racism and the under-representation of Indigenous people in the health workforce.

It also contains four pages of recommendations including mandatory anti-racist cultural safety training for all health-care workers, establishing an Indigenous-led leadership body and protocols for accountability.

Dix said it's clear there's evidence that further work needs to be done. 

"We need to take action. We need to respond to concerns in the immediate," Dix said. "There's been a lot of progress made and there's a lot of challenges to come."

With files from Karin Larsen, the Canadian Press