Indigenous patient 'disgusted' by racist treatment at Windsor Regional Hospital

Anne Marie Garrick, who identifies as Inuk, said the incident took place in September, and occured when she was feeling especially vulnerable about her health, following the birth of her daughter. 

Hospital says it's in contact with the patient and her family, and is working towards a resolution

Anne Marie and Todd Garrick Describe Racist Incident at Windsor Regional Hospital

3 years ago
Duration 1:39
Anne Marie Garrick says she was left in tears after a racist encounter with an ultrasound technician at Windsor Regional Hospital.

An Indigenous Windsor patient said she was left in tears after a racist encounter with an ultrasound technician at Windsor Regional Hospital.

Anne Marie Garrick, who identifies as Inuk, said the incident took place in September, and occurred when she was feeling especially vulnerable about her health, following the birth of her daughter. 

Garrick said prior to the incident, she felt safe with the technician, even feeling comfortable enough to cry in front of the hospital staff member.

However, things took a turn when the technician commented on Garrick's Indigenous heritage, making a derogatory comment about alcohol consumption.

"It was like, 'You know what the problem is with you people? You guys drink too much,'" Garrick recounted. "I was so caught off guard by that, and I was so scared at that moment, I didn't want to fight back of anything like that, because she was responsible for my care."

Anne Marie Garrick, right, says she immediately called her husband Todd, left, after a racist incident at Windsor Regional Hospital earlier this year. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Garrick recalled that she agreed with the technician as a way to diffuse the situation, adding that she informed the staff member that "I was not a drinker and that my whole family were not drinkers, and every single person I know in this community, they're not drinkers — that we're all very strong people."

"And she said, "I know, but I grew up in northern Ontario … it's a beautiful culture, it's just too bad you guys ruined it with drinking,'" said Garrick. "After the procedure was done, she rolled me back to the hallway and I was brought back upstairs. The first thing I did was call my husband and I broke down."

Garrick's husband Todd said he went to the hospital and spoke with the charge nurse, who instructed him to connect with the hospital's patient advocate.

'I'm worth more than a telephone call'

After virtually no communication with Windsor Regional Hospital, the Garricks found contact information for hospital CEO David Musyj and informed him about their experience.

"We were waiting for the patient advocate to get back to us — she said she would keep us in the loop," said Todd Garrick, adding that it took approximately two weeks after the call with Musyj for the hospital to respond.

"[We] got a phone call back yesterday, two weeks to do that, from a patient advocate addressing this, wanting to set up a phone conference with that technician from the hospital and a supervisor from the hospital as well."

However, the couple said a simple phone call isn't enough. Instead, they want the hospital to take remedial action against the employee in question.

After frustration with the hospital's lack of action, Anne Marie and Todd Garrick called Windsor Regional Hospital CEO David Musyj. Two weeks later, the Garricks heard back from a patient advocate.

"I'm worth more than a telephone conference," said Anne Marie Garrick. "I deserve to be able to face this woman in-person. She deserves to see this hurt that she has inflicted and the mistrust that she has given me in our hospital."

Todd Garrick said he wants to see the hospital suspend the technician at the very least. 

"Their whole thing to deal with this issue was for retraining," he said. "But retraining can only go so far … You can send them for all the retraining you want in the world, [but] if that is [their] mindset on something, it's not going to change them."

Anne Marie Garrick used a Wednesday Facebook post to speak candidly about her experience, saying she was "disgusted" with the hospital.

It's not okay by any means.- Anne Marie Garrick

"After I posted it, I've received messages from countless people in our community, and others, thanking me for standing up and finally saying something, and then sharing with me their personal stories of what they've had to endure at this exact same hospital," she said. "It's not okay by any means."

CBC News reached out to Windsor Regional Hospital for comment, and were told in an email statement that the healthcare provider is "continuing to work with the patient and family to provide them support and they have been agreeable to pursuing options with Windsor Regional Hospital toward a resolution of their concerns."

"Notwithstanding those discussions, we wish to make it clear that remarks made toward patients and or visitors in a discriminatory manner are never acceptable and we always take these matters very seriously," said Windsor Regional Hospital, in the same email. "We always encourage patients to let us know of issues they may have so that their concerns can be addressed thoroughly."

Aboriginal health centre working with region hospitals to address discrimination

Though she was unable to provide specific comment on the Garrick case, Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre (SOAHAC) regional director Sylvie Guenther said her organization is working with several Erie-St. Clair-region hospitals — including Windsor Regional Hospital — to address health discrimination against Indigenous patients.

"We exist here as [an Aboriginal Health Access Centre] — we're one of many across the province — because of the systemic and ongoing racism that Indigenous people experience within the healthcare system," said Guenther, adding that systemic oppression "for over 250 years" means Indigenous patients are sometimes less likely to seek treatment or care. 

She explained that SOHAC hosts the Ontario Indigenous Cultural Safety program as a means of providing "a variety of training opportunities for professionals to participate in, that will help them understand and work with people from this anti-racism, non-oppressive perspective."

Sylvie Guenther, regional director with the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre, says she's waiting to hear back a on funding proposal aimed at helping regional hospitals address discrimination towards Indigenous patients. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

SOHAC has submitted a proposal for federal funding that would allow the organization to better work with regional hospitals and healthcare providers to tackle discrimination and racism against Indigenous patients.

"The goal is really to create change at the leadership level," said Guenther. "A lot of the racism is systemic. It comes from policies that were developed from rules that were set in place over time, and we stopped, over time, thinking about how that impacts people."

Guenther said she expects to hear back about the results of the funding proposal in late January 2020 or early February 2020.

She said Windsor Regional Hospital is a "key partner in this project."

With files from Katerina Georgieva