Addressing Indigenous-specific systemic racism in B.C.’s health-care system

November 30, 2020

A message from Dermot Kelleher, Dean, Faculty of Medicine and Vice-President, Health, UBC

Today, Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Independent Investigator, released the report on the investigation into Indigenous-specific systemic racism in British Columbia’s health-care system. The findings are troubling, but tragically, not unexpected.

As UBC’s Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Vice-President Health, I want to thank Dr. Turpel-Lafond, her team and all of those who participated in the creation of this report and its recommendations specific to our university. This report represents a major step forward in not only describing historical wrongs but also by documenting persisting present-day circumstances. We acknowledge that this Indigenous-led process identifies initial steps we must take to improving the health and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples.

The report exposes serious problems within B.C.’s health-care system at virtually every level — widespread bias and stereotyping, stigmatization as well as overt racist acts. The consequences of this systematic discrimination, as the report notes, are obvious. Health care delivery, when hampered by these egregious factors, compromises the health and health outcomes for patients and entire communities.

Let there be no doubt, we at UBC will actively collaborate in the work needed to transform our health care system to make it accessible, safe, and a positive contributor to the health and wellness of Indigenous Peoples. We are fully committed to supporting the recommendations put forward to the University. There is much work to be done and we will stand up.

Some of the recommendations specific to UBC align with initiatives already underway. For example, the UBC 23 24 Indigenous Cultural Safety Training, was developed by the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health with significant consultation with UBC Health and involving Indigenous students, leaders, and organizations. This program spotlights the legacy of health inequities resulting from marginalization and discrimination and focuses on the importance of cultural safety and humility that health care providers must create and sustain in our health care system. We aim to obtain funding to broaden the scope and reach of UBC 23 24 as a critical and mandatory element in our collective efforts to raise awareness and promote cultural safety in health care delivery for and with Indigenous Peoples.

As recommended in the report, we’re actively increasing the number of Indigenous physicians and health professionals in B.C. More than 59 Indigenous students have graduated from the undergraduate medical program since 2015 and since the Indigenous Medical Admissions program began there have been 112 Indigenous medical graduates. Many more Indigenous medical doctors are currently completing residency training in communities across Canada. But there remains much room for improvement, not only in increasing the number of Indigenous students and graduation rates, but in the hiring and retaining of Indigenous faculty and staff—increasing our diversity can only strengthen our collective ability to serve diverse communities.

We are also committed to increasing the number of Indigenous leaders in senior positions across the university and in creating pathways and support for junior Indigenous faculty and staff to assume leadership roles across the health sector.

Other UBC initiatives, including an expanded Office of Professionalism and Respectful Environments in the Faculty of Medicine that will include an anti-racism focus and oversee implementation of the Faculty of Medicine’s commitments to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, will also contribute to the goals outlined in the report.

Finally, we welcome the opportunity to participate in further discussion of the report’s recommendation to establish a School of Indigenous Health. We can build on the success of the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health as we engage in meaningful collaboration with Indigenous Peoples and communities to realize this goal.

We are committed to working with other universities, regional and provincial health partners to address the issues identified in the report. UBC will also work with the ministries of Health and Advanced Education and Skills Training on charting a path forward.

To do anything less would be contrary to our commitment to placing patients first as expressed in our contract with society.

Again, on behalf of the university, I thank Dr. Turpel-Lafond and her team for this report. As allies and partners, we will steadfastly do our part to right the wrongs and fulfill our promise to Indigenous peoples in B.C. by creating safe places within our university and health care system. I believe the recommendations of the report present us with a unique—and vital—opportunity to stand up for change.