British Columbia

New Vancouver Island hospital project will turn fear into healing, Indigenous leader says

Cowichan Tribes hope the new facility will help address the long-held mistrust Indigenous people in the area have of the health-care system.

Planned 201-bed, $887M hospital is slated to replace the Cowichan District Hospital

The existing Cowichan District Hospital was opened in 1967 and has 134 beds. (Cowichan District Hospital)

A new hospital will become a place of healing for members of an Indigenous nation in British Columbia after decades of fear associated with the current facility, a tribal leader said Thursday.

The planned 201-bed, $887-million hospital slated to replace the Cowichan District Hospital in Duncan, B.C., will help erase long-held mistrust by Indigenous people in the area, said Albie Charlie, an elected Cowichan Tribes councillor.

"Our people will now call this hospital a place for healing — not a place of fear but a place of healing,'' Charlie said a news conference outlining details about the replacement project.

Cowichan Tribes members want to be part of efforts to rebuild a trust with the health-care system, he said.

"Cowichan Tribes, not only Cowichan Tribes but First Nations, have had negative experiences with hospitals, institutions,'' Charlie said. "It has taken away our trust from these institutions. In the past we experienced racism and we had to come through the back door.''

Earlier this year, Cowichan Tribes leaders said racist comments were directed at tribal members by some non-Indigenous residents after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared in their community.

It prompted federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller to call the comments "disgusting,'' saying Canadians do not support such behaviour.

Miller said he backed local leaders and residents who spoke up against the racism to support the Cowichan Tribes.

Health Minister Adrian Dix told the same news conference that racism in health care exists, citing a report last year that found systemic racism toward Indigenous Peoples in B.C.'s health system.

Dix said last November's report by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the former children's advocate in B.C., found some Indigenous people stay away from hospitals to avoid discriminatory treatment.

"Racism is negative to our health and it exists currently in health care and we have work to do in response to that report,'' said Dix.

Dix said the new hospital will be three times larger than the current Cowichan District Hospital in nearby Duncan.

The new hospital was first announced in 2018 by the provincial government. At that time, construction was slated to start in 2021 with completion in 2024.

The government now says construction will start in 2022 with completion in 2026.