Ending anti-Indigenous racism in B.C. health care

Last week’s release of former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s final report on anti-indigenous racism in B.C.’s health care system is a clear and resounding call to action to end systemic racial discrimination in the province’s health care delivery.

Turpel-Lafond’s media briefing, which summarized her findings and recommendations (her remarks begin at the 9:10 mark), revealed that many Indigenous people in B.C. don’t have access to family doctors and other primary care, that many First Nations, Inuit and Metis people end up with poorer health than non-Indigenous people, and that Indigenous people are 75 per cent more likely to experience a health crisis requiring emergency room care.

“When you combine these factors with the overwhelming evidence of racism in the health-care system … it’s not difficult to see why health outcomes for Indigenous peoples are poorer,” said Turpel-Lafond, adding that B.C.’s health care system must be free of entrenched racism.

“A full continuum of care and networks of First Nations-led primary care are needed to overcome the serious deficiencies we found for Indigenous peoples.”

The final report reveals much about how the system is working—or not—for Indigenous peoples. Among its findings, the review shows that Indigenous patients are less likely to have access to crucial medical services such as cancer screening and prenatal care (Indigenous women often arrive at the hospital in labour without having had prenatal examinations), and Indigenous children—less likely to see a dentist for regular checkups—are up to 9.5 times more likely to be hospitalized for treatment of cavities. The report also reveals a higher rate of chronic conditions among Indigenous people, worse outcomes for babies and children, and a disproportionate impact from both the COVID-19 pandemic and the overdose crisis.

Turpel-Lafond was appointed last June to investigate racism in the B.C. health care system following reports that hospital emergency staff were playing a “game” where they would guess the blood-alcohol content of Indigenous patients. Her initial report, titled In Plain Sight, was released in November.

Health Minister Adrian Dix, accompanying Turpel-Lafond at last week’s media briefing, pledged immediate action to address systemic racism in B.C.’s health-care system and “rip out its deeply damaging effects.”