Canada’s health­care sys­tem fails racialised peo­ple

Con­tent warn­ing: Racism, vi­o­lence

The McGill Daily - - Contents -

On March 8, 2018, Wessen Van­den­hoek, a Black man liv­ing in north­east Cal­gary, sought care at the East Cal­gary Health Cen­tre. He was vis­i­bly in pain, so the med­i­cal staff rec­om­mended that he call an am­bu­lance. Upon the am­bu­lance’s ar­rival, Van­den­hoek was greeted with ver­bal hos­til­i­ties, threat­ened, and re­fused care. “You don’t look like you need a fuck­ing am­bu­lance!” the paramedics said. “This is for real peo­ple, not peo­ple like you who use us as a god­damn taxi!” Van­den­hoek is cer­tain his ap­pear­ance and race fac­tored into how the paramedics treated him, some­thing bol­stered by the change in the paramedics’ tone when they even­tu­ally took him to Peter Lougheed hos­pi­tal. They then quickly adopted a friend­lier at­ti­tude and helped him into a wheel­chair. But when Van­den­hoek tried to speak with staff about why he had been treated in the man­ner he had, he says he was re­fused the names of the paramedics and threat­ened with a psy­chi­atric hold, an in­vol­un­tary stay in psy­chi­atric care that would serve to dis­credit Van­den­hoek if he were to pur­sue the paramedics’ ha­rass­ment in court. Since his ex­pe­ri­ence with Cal­gary Emergency Med­i­cal Ser­vices Van­den­hoek says he’s missed at least one doc­tor’s ap­point­ment be­cause he “doesn’t feel com­fort­able go­ing to a med­i­cal place right now.”

The paramedics’ de­nial of Van­den­hoek’s med­i­cal needs is part of a larger is­sue of sys­temic racism in the Cana­dian health­care sys­tem. The needs of racial­ized and marginal­ized peo­ple are of­ten min­i­mized, re­sult­ing in dis­pro­por­tion­ately poor health out­comes for those com­mu­ni­ties. One study linked per­ceived racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion ex­pe­ri­enced by Black women to neg­a­tive birth out­comes, such as high rates of pre­ma­ture birth and ill­ness in­ci­dence. There have also been a num­ber of com­plaints made across the coun­try about anti-in­dige­nous racism in health care, in which racist stereo­types and myths have led to ne­glect, mis­di­ag­noses, and even death. For ex­am­ple, Brian Sin­clair, an In­dige­nous man, was found dead in a wheel­chair in a hos­pi­tal wait­ing room after go­ing un­treated for 34 hours be­cause the nurses thought he was drunk — a per­va­sive stereo­type pro­jected on In­dige­nous peo­ple.

Power dy­nam­ics be­tween health­care providers and their pa­tients en­force racist, bu­reau­cratic sys­tems of op­pres­sion that threaten the qual­ity of care pro­vided to racial­ized peo­ple seek­ing med­i­cal aid. Med­i­cal of­fi­cials act on sys­temic racial prej­u­dices, which end up priv­i­leg­ing the health, safety, and well-be­ing of white pa­tients. Fur­ther, there is an on­go­ing un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Black, In­dige­nous, and Lat­inx doc­tors across med­i­cal dis­ci­plines. There­fore, we must seek rep­re­sen­ta­tion through the ed­u­ca­tion and in­clu­sion of marginal­ized and racial­ized med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als into doc­toral pro­grams, res­i­den­cies, and care fa­cil­i­ties like surgery rooms through­out Canada’s health­care sys­tem. More­over, we must ex­pose the ex­ten­sive reach of state vi­o­lence and colo­nial racism through the ac­knowl­edge­ment of peo­ple like Wessen Van­den­hoek and Brian Sin­clair to dis­man­tle the racism that threat­ens the qual­ity of health­care. This can be ac­tively com­bated by giv­ing spe­cial­ized train­ing to health­care pro­fes­sion­als. As a first step, Mcgill should also seek to im­ple­ment a pro­gram sim­i­lar to the Univer­sity of Toronto’s Black Stu­dent Ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram to di­ver­sify the stu­dent body of our med­i­cal school and take part in the dis­man­tling of racism in the Cana­dian health­care sys­tem.

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