BC FN health agency employees warn ground-breaking project at risk from ‘toxic’ work environment

A ground-breaking First Nations health agency in British Columbia will fail unless it fixes a “toxic” work environment

Tina House
APTN National News
A ground-breaking First Nations health agency in British Columbia will fail unless it fixes a “toxic” work environment, current employees told APTN National News.

Two employees from the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) in B.C. spoke to APTN National News about the current work conditions inside the agency on condition of anonymity.

The employees decided to speak over concerns with how senior officials at the FNHA responded this week to a report from the Auditor General of Canada and an anonymous letter containing explosive allegations that triggered the federal audit.

“What causes me great anxiety is…how the FNHA was disregarding a lot of the allegations because, for myself, I faced some of them, not all of them, but some,” said the current employee, who is a woman. “I see, not only in the department I was working in but in others, a lot of mistreatment, a lot of lateral violence, a lot of vertical violence, top down.”

The employee said the work environment took a toll on her mental health and she is undergoing counselling.

Another employee, also a woman, said the current leadership won’t ever admit the allegations about the work environment in the FNHA have merit out of self-preservation.

“There is a whole lot of people at that level that are only interested in protecting themselves and their title and their power and not talking about the real issues that we need to fix,” said the second employee.

The employee said if the toxic workplace issues aren’t fixed it may doom the FNHA.

“If we don’t fix them, the FNHA will fail,” said the employee.

The anonymous letter, which was obtained by APTN, was sent to the Office of the Auditor General of Canada in mid-2015. The allegations in the letter were serious enough to trigger an audit of the agency, said Auditor General Michael Ferguson, during a press conference Tuesday.

Ferguson said auditors did not set out to determine the merit of the allegations, but rather how the FNHA handled the complaints.

The auditors found the FNHA’s response was generally inadequate.

The anonymous letter alleged that there was a “toxic” work environment, where women were hired based on looks and instances of sexual harassment and bullying went unpunished.

Auditors found there was little evidence to show managers were hired based on merit. The auditors also found the FNHA did not do enough to investigate inappropriate workplace behaviour.

Grand Chief Doug Kelly, chair of the First Nations Health Council which provides political oversight for the FNHA, said the anonymous letter was “essentially a smear campaign …”

Kelly said he doubted that the author of the letter ever worked at the FNHA.

“Some folks have said that the reason it wasn’t signed is because they are afraid of repercussions of their employer,” said Kelly. “I actually don’t think the letter was written by employees. I believe others wrote the letter and it was unsigned because they were afraid to be sued for defamation.”

APTN has learned that the letter was written by an employee.

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Video Journalist / Vancouver

A proud Métis from BC, Tina began her television career in 1997 as a talent agent for film and TV. She joined APTN National News in 2007 as a Video Journalist in the Vancouver bureau. In 2010, she was the recipient of the Amnesty International Human Rights Journalism Award for her story on murdered and missing women and girls.

1 thought on “BC FN health agency employees warn ground-breaking project at risk from ‘toxic’ work environment

  1. Thank you to the courageous employees who blew the whistle. Given the denial of problems by the Grand Chief, there is much work to be done. A good spring cleaning perhaps.

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