B.C. health workers allegedly bet on Indigenous patients’ blood alcohol levels

The province is investigating reports of health-care staff playing a racist game betting on the blood alcohol level of mainly Indigenous patients they were treating, according to Health Minister Adrian Dix.

“The allegation is that a game was being played to investigate the blood alcohol level of patients in the emergency rooms, in particular with Indigenous people and perhaps others. And if true, it is intolerable and racist and of course (has) affected profoundly patient care,” Dix told reporters at a news conference in Vancouver on Friday morning.

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Former Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond to lead the investigation that will start Monday, he said.

Dix said he learned of the “abhorrent” allegations the night before, and that no nurses or doctors have been disciplined as of yet.

There are no details yet on how widespread the game has been, how many nurses and doctors have been involved, and where it’s been happening.

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According to a statement from Métis Nation BC and the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, a participant in a recent training session on Indigenous cultural safety, offered by the Provincial Health Services Authority, referred to a “common game played within B.C. hospital emergency rooms.”

It was one of “thousands” of cases of racism that participants talked about during the online course, the organizations said. No other details were provided.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit patients seeking emergency care are often assumed to be intoxicated and denied medical assessments, the statement went on.

“There remains a lack of will to address systemic and specific racism towards Métis, First Nation and Inuit people,” said Leslie Varley, executive director of the Aboriginal Friendship Centres group.

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“We know that our people avoid hospitals because we are afraid of having a discriminatory encounter. This happens to the point where Indigenous people end up in emergency with extreme diagnosis, like cancer.”

Both organizations are calling on the Ministry of Health to hold a public inquiry into Indigenous-specific racism in the B.C. health-care system, with a focus on hospitals and emergency rooms, and ensure all front-line staff are required to take mandatory cultural training.

“What is allegedly happening in B.C. hospitals to Métis, First Nations and Inuit peoples is deeply disturbing and must immediately come to an end,” said Daniel Fontaine, CEO of Métis Nation BC.

“We remain committed to work with Provincial Health Services Authority to increase Métis-specific content curriculum to increase the knowledge and understanding of healthcare providers.”

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Turpel-Lafond, known for her eviscerating reports into the child welfare system when she was the watchdog, said the province has assured her she’ll get full access and tools required for her investigation.

“I will sort those details out next week and make a more complete statement of the scope, focus and timeframe for the work,” she said in a statement.

Premier John Horgan said he is outraged by “reports of ugly, anti-Indigenous, racist behaviour at multiple health-care facilities in B.C.”

“There is no excuse. There is no explaining this away,” he said. “If confirmed, this is a heartbreaking example of systemic racism in our province.”

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