May 31st, 2023
Creating Safer Spaces
June is National Indigenous History Month, a time to recognize the history, heritage and rich contributions of First Nations, Inuit, Métis and Urban Indigenous peoples across Canada.
As Patient Ombudsman, our role is to champion fairness in health care. And yet, we are keenly aware of anti-Indigenous racism in the health care sector. Between 2019-21, our office received 27 complaints from 25 individuals reporting discrimination or lack of culturally sensitive care for Indigenous patients in hospitals, long-term care homes, and home and community care. The complaints covered a wide range of issues, including use of racial slurs and general lack of sensitivity or compassionate care. Several noted that incorrect assumptions were made about alcohol or drug use in evaluating their physical/medical concerns. Other complainants noted that the health care organization did not provide or refused to permit culturally appropriate care, such as not allowing smudging or healing circles, or that the health care organization was not open to engaging family members or Elders in care planning.
These complaints are disturbing, and we recognize that they are just a small fraction of what Indigenous patients are experiencing. We know we’re not hearing from many patients and caregivers across Ontario. Last year, the Wabano Centre released a report that highlights personal stories from more than 200 individuals across Ontario’s Champlain region who experienced Indigenous-specific racism while accessing health care. These individuals not only shared their own experiences, but 40% also reported having witnessed racism and discrimination against others.
Patient Ombudsman recognizes the need for us as an organization to better support Indigenous patients and caregivers as they navigate the health care system, and we share the concerns about negative experiences. We are working to build our own capacity and continue to support our staff in building cultural competence. We have a dedicated Early Resolution Specialist - Indigenous Experiences staff member to support complaint resolutions for Indigenous patients and caregivers and assist with community outreach to help us ensure we are a welcoming space to receive concerns.
These are just the first steps. There is always more for us to learn and ways for us to improve our practices. We welcome opportunities to hear from Indigenous patients, caregivers and communities about how we can better support people’s needs.
Our Early Resolution Specialist – Indigenous Experiences can be reached at email@example.com