Manitoba doctor’s assumption about Cree elder’s alcohol use was racist, daughter says
WINNIPEG -- A 72-year-old woman from Bunibonibee Cree Nation in Manitoba is speaking out about racism in the health-care system following a trip to a Winnipeg hospital.
Elder Sadie North alleges a clerk was rude to her and failed to help her get around and a doctor made assumptions about alcohol use.
North and her daughter, former MKO Grand Chief Sheila North, spoke out during a media conference Friday morning because they say they’re not satisfied with how the complaint was handled after bringing it to the hospital’s attention.
Sheila North is now calling for the resignation or dismissal of the health-care workers involved.
“People should lose their jobs if they’re being racist,” she told reporters. “The whole system should know better.”
“Our people don’t deserve to be treated in such a way in our own hospitals and our own lands and that’s what happened.”
Kellie O’Rourke, the Chief Operating Officer of Grace Hospital, said the hospital is taking the concerns seriously.
“We have been actively engaged with Elder North and her family over the last number of weeks to listen and to understand their concerns,” O’Rourke told CTV News in a written statement, adding the hospital has apologized directly to North and her family.
“I want to be clear: unconscious bias, discrimination, and racism have no place in our health-care system or in our hospital. We are grateful to Elder North and her family for sharing their concerns with us, and for speaking out."
"It is only through dialogue and genuine appreciation for the experiences of those we serve that we can continue to learn, and improve the care we provide to all patients - regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, age or background.”
North took her mom, who lives with diabetes, to Grace Hospital on Sept. 5 after she got sick over the Labour Day long weekend. North wasn’t allowed to escort her mom around the hospital due to COVID-19.
“She had cellulitis on her leg. That was ultimately what was wrong,” she said Sheila. “By the time I took her there, she couldn’t even walk or even push her feet on the walker she was sitting on.”
North said she helped her mom to a clerk’s desk and was then asked to leave.
“We trusted that she was okay in there,” she explained. “We trusted that they were taking good care of her.”
Sadie North said when her daughter left, she was on her own with her walker and a clerk gave her instructions but didn’t help her get around.
“I tried hard to push myself with my feet and help myself to the desk and from there I could hear her, ‘It’s this way, it’s this way. Come here. Help yourself,’” she said. “It was empty. Nobody was there at all. No patients at all. Nobody.”
“I did it, anyway. I struggled and when I tried to talk to her, she asked me what’s happened. ‘Why are you here? Can you tell you us?’ That was a voice…I would not hear that in front of sick people. That was not proper to say that.”
North said she was directed by the clerk to get herself to the waiting area. She said she couldn’t push herself, but eventually, a different worker eventually helped her get there.
That’s where she said she vomited but no one was nearby to offer immediate help. North said eventually someone saw her.
“The next thing I know I was on a stretcher,” she said. “There was nurses and doctors on both sides of me.”
“An experience like that I didn’t want to tell. Why is it happening? Where’s the workers?”
North told reporters she was treated with antibiotics.
A couple of days later, she said a doctor came to her bedside and asked her name and age and they discussed her move from Oxford House to Winnipeg before she was asked about alcohol use.
“The hardest thing that I cannot explain, the word he said: ‘How much alcohol do you use?’” she said. “That was the wrong way to say it. That’s not the right way to introduce yourself.”
“I don’t use alcohol. He said, ‘Are you sure? When you’re diabetic, alcohol doesn’t mix together.’ He didn’t even look at my infection on my leg.”
Sheila North said a complaint was filed with the patient relations department. She also spoke with representatives at the hospital.
“I think they did their best,” she said. “The ones that I talked to are trying to tell me that they’re having cultural relations training now and they were going to get a generic apology from the head staff.”
“But it’s not enough. People like my mom shouldn’t be made to feel that she had to defend herself when she’s sick. She’s already very ill and for someone to accuse her of drinking alcohol – it was very hurtful.”