Racism, stereotyping huge barrier to First Nations health care
Racism and cultural intolerance are keeping Aboriginal people living in urban areas from accessing proper health care, according to a new report by the Health Council of Canada.
The report points out that while colonization, residential schools and poverty contribute to the poor health outcomes of Aboriginal people in Canada, in many cases the racism and cultural ignorance shown by health practitioners across the country adds another barrier to the challenges of accessing proper health care.
“One barrier to good health lies squarely in the lap of the health care system itself,” the report states. “Many Aboriginal people don’t trust – and therefore don’t use – mainstream health care services because they don’t feel safe from stereotyping and racism.”
The study involved interviews with health care providers in seven urban settings across Canada, in an attempt to determine challenges and concerns with how health care is delivered for Aboriginal people living in urban environments.
John Abbott, the CEO of Health Council of Canada, told Wawatay that the issues of racism and stereotyping as well as a lack of understanding of Aboriginal cultures among health care providers were common themes in all areas of the country.
Abbott said the study clearly showed a divide on how doctors and nurses engage with their patients, especially when the patients are Aboriginal people.
“Sometimes (providers) are not understanding where the patient is coming from, and what is driving their needs,” Abbott said. “Patients have to feel that their values are respected, and sometimes we are not doing that.”
Abbott said managers and leaders in health care settings across the country have to start taking a “no-tolerance” approach to dealing with racism in health care.
He also noted that education is key when it comes to improving the care Aboriginal people receive in health care settings.
As a positive example, he pointed to what the British Columbia government is doing in terms of having mandatory cultural sensitivity training for all health care staff.
“It’s an eight-hour program that really helps to lay out the context, and the issues facing Aboriginal people to help build the respect in how providers deal with patients,” Abbott said, adding that regions without cultural sensitivity training for health care workers should immediately work on implementing it.
Abbott added that ongoing efforts across the country to incorporate more teachings on First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples in all levels of education, from elementary school right up to medical and nursing schools, will help change the culture of racism and stereotyping that exists in health care.
Meanwhile he encourages governments continue to work to get more Aboriginal health care providers trained and working in the field.
“The engagement is much better and the diagnosis is much better when you share an understanding of culture and of where the patient comes from,” Abbott said.
As for patients who experience racism and stereotyping, Abbott suggests they ensure the situation gets documented and followed up with.
“It’s important to bring it to the attention of managers and CEO,” he said. “Patients have to hold health authorities accountable.”
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