An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
WHEN ALLEGATIONS SURFACED of B.C. frontline medical staff playing guessing games about the blood-alcohol levels of indigenous patients, they were widely accepted as fact.
Supposedly, the game had been played in multiple facilities over a period of years. Even when other sources contended the game was real but not targeted to indigenous patients, the assumption that indigenous patients were being demeaned lived on.
Supposedly, it was called “The Price is Right,” after a popular TV game show. It was described as “heinous,” just another example of systemic racism. First Nations leaders demanded action to fix it. There were demands that anyone who took part in it be called out along with their hospitals.
Health Minister Adrian Dix reacted quickly, appointing former judge Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond to investigate. This week, after what she called a “full and complete investigation” of five months, Turpel Lafond concluded there were no grounds to believe such a game existed beyond isolated incidents.
Accusations of an organized game, she said, were “unsubstantiated.” That’s good news.
The investigation, however, was anything but a waste. Turpel Lafond’s mandate didn’t stop with the now debunked guessing game. She was also tasked with looking at other possible racism within the healthcare system, and she found it.
Within her lengthy report are stories from indigenous patients of racist treatment that are truly disturbing. There are examples in every single health authority in the province. Clearly, our health care system is no more immune from racism than any other sector of society.
Turpel Lafond included 24 recommendations in her report, including the appointment of indigenous health representatives and the expansion of whistleblower protection to healthcare workers.
Her report, then, has accomplished two things: it has brought to light the existence of widespread racism in healthcare and provided a road map towards rectifying it, and reminded us that, in our determination to end racism, we shouldn’t make assumptions about what’s true before we have proof.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.