Health Minister Adrian Dix and the BC government are investigating allegations of a racist “game” being played by hospital staff in the provincial health care system.

During a last-minute press conference on Friday, Minister Dix said that some emergency room staff in the province had been accused of playing a game where they attempted to guess the blood alcohol level of patients, particularly of Indigenous people.

Dix said these “racist and abhorrent” practices were brought to his attention last night by Deputy Minister Stephen Brown and he decided to immediately engage in an investigation process.

“If these allegations are confirmed, the conduct is beyond unacceptable,” said Dix.

BC Premier John Horgan, who recently said he was horrified by a separate incident of racism on Vancouver Island, publically announced his anger in regards to this alleged racist game.

“I am outraged by reports of ugly, anti-Indigenous, racist behaviour at multiple health-care facilities in B.C.,” said Horgan in a statement. “This behaviour degrades the standards and provisions of health care in our province. It cannot stand. There is no excuse. There is no explaining this away.”

Minister Dix said former Child and Youth Advocate Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed to investigate these allegations.

“She will have the authority and power to investigate as she sees fit. That may require an expansion of legal authority, but right now she will be determining facts and making recommendations,” Dix said of Turpel-Lafond’s role.

Horgan backed the investigation being pursued by both Dix and Turpel-Lafond, saying they have his “full support to ensure that the details of this case will be revealed and that the voices of anyone who has experienced this racist practice will be heard.”

As it is early on in the investigation process, Minister Dix refrained from stating where these practices took place, if this is something happening at more than one emergency room location, or if this has been an ongoing occurrence.

Dix, however, did point to addressing the bigger picture of systemic racism within BC’s health care system.

“There is absolutely a larger issue that needs to be addressed, that’s why we’re engaged together in a path that pursues, in health care, cultural safety and humility,” stated Dix.

In the health minister’s mind, the allegations of these actions, being described as a game, of guessing a patient’s blood alcohol content were serious enough that they required an immediate response. He also feels that this incident will lead to more individuals coming forward with concerns that reflect similar issues.

“It tells us why we have so far to go,” added the health minister. “Systemic racism is not just existent in our country but exists in our country and has impacts on all walks of life.”

According to the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres (BCAAFC), the organization says that First Nations, Métis and Inuit patients who seek emergency medical services in British Columbia are often “assumed to be intoxicated” which can equate to being denied medical assessments.

“What is allegedly happening in BC hospitals to Métis, First Nations and Inuit peoples is deeply disturbing and must immediately come to an end,” said Daniel Fontaine, Chief Executive Officer for the Métis Nation BC.  “We remain committed to working with Provincial Health Services Authority to increase Métis specific content curriculum to increase the knowledge and understanding of healthcare providers serving Métis people to ensure improved care and culturally safe experiences in BC.”

The organization adds that systemic racism with the BC health care system can lead to avoidance of treatment facilities, which in turn can result in further health problems for Indigenous people.

“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,” said Leslie Varley, Executive Director of the BCAAFC.

In a statement from the Premier on Friday, Horgan said no one should fear discrimination at care facilities.

“No one should worry that when they visit a hospital that they will be prejudged and given a lower standard of care,” said Horgan.

Dix is hoping to gather more facts from the investigation into this alleged game before taking further action, however, the health minister admits that change to other overarching systemic racial issues needs to happen regardless.

“It is beyond dispute that there are people who have suffered in our province from systemic racism in many fields, and healthcare is one of those.”

Horgan echoed those same sentiments and highlighted that action will be taken.

“This will not be swept aside. We will not look the other way when racism is exposed. We will get a full account and changes will be made,” claimed the premier.

No timeline was given for Turpel-Lafond’s investigation into this matter.

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Graham Cox