Having a fractured leg misdiagnosed at a federally run nursing station was held up as an example of anti-Indigenous racism in the health care system during an online press conference Jan. 26.
Brian Wood, a band councillor for O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation (OPCN) at South Indian Lake since 2018, said his wife Carol injured her leg Jan. 11 when a dog ran into her and knocked her over but she was told to go home after a perfunctory assessment.
“One of the nurses attended to her,” he said. “She said that the leg didn’t appear to be broken. She wasn’t even there for five minutes and she left.”
Wood ended up driving his wife nearly 300 kilometres to Thompson General Hospital, much of the distance on unpaved roads, where doctors said her leg was broken.
“They found out that there were two fractures in her leg and there was something wrong with her knee,” Wood said.
His wife was then medevaced to Winnipeg for surgery before being transported back to Thompson, where she was still taking intravenous antibiotics two weeks later.
“I find that very appalling nobody should be treated that way,” Wood said. “The nurse can’t just visually look at an injury and assume. They should have been doing a thorough assessment on the patient and making sure to diagnose it correctly.”
To Dr. Barry Lavallee, CEO of Indigenous health organization Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin, driving several hours with a broken leg amounts to torture.
“It is outrageous,” he said. “It is accepted substandard care. We’re not believed when we’re in pain. It’s always about dismissal of our reality. That’s how racism functions is by dismissal. They use stereotypes as a method to ensure we don’t get care.”
OPCN Chief Shirley Ducharme said members fo her First Nation often don’t want to go to the nursing station when they are sick or injured.
“Our people don’t feel comfortable to go to the nursing station,” she said. “No one should be doubted when they are looking for medical attention. They should be treated with respect and compassion.”
Tuesday’s press conference was organized by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), which represents 26 Northern Manitoba First Nations and is taking part in a national online conference called Addressing Anti-Indigenous Racism in Canada’s Health Care Systems Jan. 27-28. MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said there are two health care systems in Canada – a substandard one for Indigenous people and a better one for everyone else.
“This is an account of an experience that many of our people face,” said Settee. “A lot of people have a story of the health care system, how they’re not treated fairly. This is happening in our world and it should not be happening.”
Despite years of seeking better medical care for Indigenous people, nothing seems to improve, Settee said.
“We have brought the issues forward time and time again. We have seen no change.”
A Northern Regional Health Authority spokesperson told CBC that its employees must take a two-part cultural proficiency training program and that its chief Indigenous health officer is leading the development of a regional anti-racism strategy and co-leading a provincewide one. The NRHA also has process in place to deal with allegations of racism when they occur.
The federal government was contacted by CBC and CTV for comment on what happened at the South Indian Lake nursing station but has not yet responded.