Newly released data in Canada shows racism impacting First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in British Columbia is linked to a lack of equal access to primary medical or preventive care across the Canadian province.

According to the report, Indigenous people in British Columbia don’t have access to family doctors and other primary care services, instead ending up in the emergency room.

It also found Indigenous patients are 75 per cent more likely to visit the ER than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Led by former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who was appointed to investigate anti-Indigenous racism in the health care system, the report is in response to allegations that emergency staff at a BC hospital were playing a ‘game’ where they would guess the blood-alcohol content of Indigenous patients.

Turpel-Lafond’s initial report, In Plain Sight, was released in November 2020.

Though the report couldn’t substantiate allegations about the ‘game’, it did find widespread racism, stereotyping and discrimination against Indigenous patients in the health care system.

The report contained 24 recommendations, including the creation of an Indigenous health officer and an associate deputy Minister of Indigenous health within the province.

The team’s final report is based on data uncovered during the investigation as well as measurements of how the system is working for Indigenous peoples.

The update comes days after a pregnant Indigenous woman was turned away from the hospital in Kitimat and later delivered her stillborn child 52 kilometres away in Terrace.

Turpel-Lafond told City News pregnant women were especially at risk, and that by the time many First Nations people visit a hospital, it’s too late.

“Their needs become more acute because they don’t get primary care and when they go into emergency, it may not be the place to do the referral, to do the communication, to provide the culturally safe care because, at times, emergency departments themselves are in a state of crisis,” she said.

“What we’re seeing is that, instead of having routine health care, we don’t have the continuum.”

“We have the emergency department, so First Nations people are going into the ER to get care.”

She added that an emergency room is not usually the best place to seek culturally safe care.

“We need to build out the primary care system and continue that work and I appreciate that’s not going to be built overnight,” she said.

“These types of interactions, where First Nations people are going in crisis and into an emergency room because they haven’t had care is the type of situation that compounds the racism, and this cycle needs to be broken.”

Turpel-Lafond said it’s clear that British Columbia needs to rebuild its health care system to one “that does not have racism entrenched in it”.

BC Health Minister Adrian Dix appeared alongside Turpel-Lafond and pledged immediate action, saying he understands those affected by racism in the health care system are tired of reports and reviews.

“We will address systemic racism in our health care system and rip out its deeply damaging effects,” Minister Dix said.

In response to Turpel-Lafond’s initial report, Minister Dix said he would appoint an associate deputy Minister to a lead task force responsible for implementing its 24 recommendations.

The province has also promised to create an Office of the Indigenous health representative and improve the complaints process.

By Darby Ingram