B.C. investigating allegations ER staff played ‘game’ to guess blood-alcohol level of Indigenous patients

B.C. is investigating allegations health-care staff in emergency rooms were playing a “game” to guess the blood-alcohol level of patients in the ward, mainly Indigenous people.

“If true, it is intolerable, unacceptable and racist,” Minister Adrian Dix said in a phone call with reporters on Friday.

The minister said the “abhorrent,” racist behaviour is alleged to have taken place in at least one hospital. 

Dix declined to identify which hospital, or hospitals, are being investigated. He also would not say which health authority was under investigation.

If the allegations are true, such behaviour would have “affected, profoundly, patient care,” he said.

Dix said Deputy Minister of Health Steve Brown told him about the accusations on Thursday night. Brown first received the information “from within the community and within the system,” Dix said. 

Mary-Ellen Turpel Lafond, a former lawyer and longtime children’s advocate in B.C., has been appointed to investigate “the facts of the issue” and make recommendations to the province for the immediate and long-term. 

The minister said he will be reaching out to Indigenous leaders in B.C., especially in health care, as well as the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) about the problem.

Documented history of racism in health care

Pervasive, deep-rooted racial discrimination has long existed in B.C.’s health-care institutions.  

A joint 2017 presentation from the FNHA and the B.C. Patient Safety and Quality Council found Indigenous people continue to receive poorer care due to racism, discrimination and stereotypes.

The report said data from 2014 found more than 3,800 examples of stereotyping against Indigenous people, with “alcoholic” being the most common.

Harmful behaviours by staff included misdiagnosis, delay or denial in service, “improper procedure” and withholding of pain medication for Indigenous patients. 

The Canadian Public Health Association said in 2018 people of colour continue to receive a poorer level of health care in comparison to white people. Those who experience racism “exhibit poorer health outcomes including negative mental health outcomes, negative physical health outcomes, and negative health-related behaviours,” the association said.

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