Island Health has issued an apology after an alleged racist incident occurred at Ladysmith Community Health Centre.
A mother says that staff at LCHC discriminated against her and her 13-year-old daughter as they sought care for her daughter’s unexplained back pains and shortness of breath on Jan. 22. The mother said she believes they were discriminated against because they are Indigenous. She spoke with the Chronicle on condition of anonymity due to concerns of targeted online harassment.
“First we took my daughter to NRGH [Nanaimo Regional General Hospital] for emergency. She had back pain, a bad headache, shortness of breath, and her whole body was starting to feel sore,” she said.
Staff at NRGH took a urine sample, conducted a COVID-19 test, and took x-rays. She was given a prescription for an inhaler and discharged from NRGH while awaiting test results. Staff said to seek further care if her pain levels increased.
“We were almost home, and my daughter couldn’t sit still — she was in so much pain,” the mother said. “I thought because we were closer to Ladysmith Urgent Care that we should go there.”
When they arrived at LCHC, the mother said a nurse treated them more like a nuisance than a patient.
“She said ‘if you’ve already been seen why don’t you just go back home?’ I tried to explain to her that the doctor said if she’s in any more pain she needs to be checked out.”
The mother said that before she and her daughter were allowed into the waiting room they were told they needed to change their masks, but weren’t allowed to throw their old masks in the garbage. They were made to keep their masks in their pockets instead.
Once they saw a doctor, the treatment got worse.
“He said, ‘You should be at home, think about your Elders. You’re supposed to be isolating.’ I told him I was thinking about my Elders. I just wanted to know what was wrong with my daughter, she was in pain,” the mother said.
“It felt like he was really annoyed that we were there. I remember telling him he didn’t have to treat us so unfairly.”
Eventually the doctor gave the 13 year old some Tylenol, and allegedly said that she either ‘had COVID and you can die from that, or you have a kidney infection and you can die from that too.’ The doctor then left the room.
“My daughter looked at me right away. I hugged her and said ‘you’re not going to die.’ She looked so scared.”
A few days later, test results determined that the 13-year-old was suffering from a bladder infection. She’s expected to recover quickly.
The incident prompted a joint statement from Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris and Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone condemning racism.
“We need to take serious action, we can’t just put our heads in the sand, we need recognize this,” Stone said. “We need to identify, name, and reconcile with the past to ensure the future is better for everyone.”
Island Health also released a statement to the Chronicle acknowledging ‘systemic racism’ in their health authority.
“Island Health acknowledges that this patient did not receive culturally safe care and the care provided did not meet the family’s expectations. We are deeply concerned about the impact of this experience on the patient, their family, the Stz’uminus First Nation, and the broader community.”
Island Health said officials are working with the patient’s family, and Stz’uminus First Nation to address the incident and prevent future incidents from occurring in their health authority.
“Island Health acknowledges systemic Indigenous-specific racism occurs within our health authority. Our patients and communities can be assured we are taking action, and the steps that we are taking will continue to be guided by Indigenous leaders and communities.”
Chief Harris said that she’s tired of apologies, and wants to see concrete actions to address systemic racism in health care.
“There’s been apologies made in the past, there’s been apologies made to our young mother who went through this racial discrimination here in Ladysmith. I’m tired of hearing the apologies — the empty apology — because it continues to happen. We hear about it almost every day,” Harris said.
“I’m looking for action. They can apologize until they’re blue in the face, but I won’t believe it until I actually see change happen.”