Report says Indigenous people experience racism in Ottawa’s healthcare system on regular basis

A new report says a significantly high number of Indigenous people have experienced racism in the Ottawa-area healthcare system.

“People try to hide their Indigenous identity to receive care,” says Allison Fisher, executive director of the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health. “If they can pretend to be something other than they are, maybe just maybe the nurse, the doctor, the specialist will treat them kindly. Treat them equitably.”

The report, Share Your Story: Indigenous-Specific Racism in Health Care Across the Champlain Region, surveyed more than 200 Indigenous people in 2018 and 2019.

Published by Wabano Centre and the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition, it contains 315 stories and the results are alarming:

  • 78 per cent of those surveyed reported experiencing anti-Indigenous racism in the health care system.
  • 76 per cent said they believed they would have received better service if they were non-Indigenous.
  • 69 per cent indicated reduced use of the system due to experienced racism.

Fisher, who is also a co-chair of the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition, says sadly none of the results are surprising.

“We’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of these stories through the years and it was finally a culmination of people’s weariness. The fact that the stories didn’t change. The problems were there year after year after year.”

Another co-chair of the coalition is Mikki Adams who also shared her own story.

Starting in 2018, she went to hospital numerous times with a serious chest infection but was continuously sent home because staff assumed she was intoxicated.

“On five separate incidents I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” Adams says. “On the fourth and fifth instance, my husband pretty much had to drag me to the hospital because I didn’t want to be stereotyped, or put down or ignored while I was at the hospital in pain.”

Adams says she fully understands why many Indigenous people avoid seeking medical treatment even when they desperately need it.

“It’s very frustrating, aggravating and upsetting. Because I know that I needed the help but I didn’t want to go to the hospital to get the help,” she says.

The report makes a total of 27 recommendations on tackling racism within the Ottawa-area health region.

They range from comprehensive sensitivity training for staff to the development of an anti-racism action plan.

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Nevertheless, Fisher says the first step must be for those running the health care system to acknowledge racism exists.

“I think that is one of the most fundamental things we are trying to tell the institutions here is that they have to take ownership,” she says. “They’ve never taken ownership of the issue. That’s the fundamental beginning of this road map that we’ve laid out for them in this document. Is to take ownership and commit to equity, health equity.”

Aside from Ottawa, the report examines Indigenous experiences with health care facilities in Cornwall, Pembroke and Renfrew.

The report’s authors are calling on all political parties running in the provincial election campaign to address its findings.

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