Health officials have launched a review into allegations that a pregnant Haisla woman lost her baby after not receiving adequate care at a hospital in northwestern British Columbia, in part because she is Indigenous.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the review during a regular COVID-19 press briefing Friday afternoon.
"We cannot speak to the specific situation, however we expect those in our health-care system across our province to provide culturally safe care to Indigenous people and all people, no matter the situation," he said.
"There is no place for racism in our health-care system, and any discriminatory or racist behaviour is a violation of our principles, policies and values. Northern Health has initiated a review which will work with the family and the health-care provider to determine exactly what happened in this situation."
In an interview with CBC, Dustin Gaucher said his niece visited Kitimat General Hospital Wednesday night in distress. Gaucher said she was two weeks overdue and was experiencing contractions, but her water had not broken. Gaucher said she wanted medical intervention to help the birth along.
"She knew something was wrong. And the [hospital] said, 'No, we're not doing that here,' " Gaucher said.
WATCH | Health Minister Adrian Dix says a review will determine what happened:
Gaucher said his niece then called an ambulance in an effort to be transferred to a larger hospital in Terrace, but was instead driven to a different entrance of the same hospital in Kitimat. At that point her father drove her to Terrace in his own vehicle, 60 kilometres away. She went into labour there and gave birth to a stillborn baby.
Health officials would not confirm or comment the specifics of what happened, citing privacy.
B.C. Emergency Health Services did confirm paramedics received a call for a maternity patient located outside the Kitimat General Hospital at 6:59 p.m. Jan. 27.
"A paramedic crew arrived five minutes later but did not transport," said spokesperson Sarah Morris in an email. She would not say why the transport did not happen, or on whose orders.
Northern Health spokesperson Eryn Collins said in an emailed statement that Kitimat General Hospital is equipped for maternal care, including emergency C-sections. But Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace has a neonatal nursery and intensive care ward, and medically complex cases may be referred there, preferably in advance.
In a series of text messages reviewed by CBC, Gaucher's niece asks him to tell her story so people can understand how Indigenous people are treated in health care.
Gaucher said there are many stories in the community of Haisla and other Indigenous people not receiving proper care.
"We're labelled as difficult and we can't get help," he said. "We've lived this... I can't hold one of my babies because [no one] around here will listen to us."
In November 2020, an investigation led by former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond found racism, stereotyping and discrimination against Indigenous peoples in the B.C. health-care system are widespread.
Gaucher said he wants cultural liaisons to be present in the Kitimat hospital to work with Indigenous patients.
In her email, Collins said Northern Health has "expressed its ongoing commitment to working with its staff and physicians on providing cultural appropriate services. The vast majority of the physicians, staff and care providers at Northern health share this commitment, and provide culturally safe care every day — but we also know there is more work to be done."