An Indigenous man is furious after his mother was put in a “storage room” after she was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer.
Bradford Mistakenchief’s mother was only given 18 months to live with the diagnosis. She was immediately put into palliative care at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, where he visited her regularly.
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“I was seeing her every other day when she first came in. I was rubbing her feet and cleaning her room, just to make sure she is loved,” Mistakenchief told Global News.
“She did that her whole life, so it’s easy to return the favour.”
But when Mistakenchief came to visit on Monday, he immediately knew something was not right.
At first, he couldn’t find her in her usual room on the fourth floor of the cancer centre. After asking the nurses where she was, he found her in a nurse’s station “storage room.”
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He then found out that she had been discharged by her doctor and had been waiting in the room for almost three hours. There was an unused tub in one corner and towels hanging from a gurney in another, he said.
Mistakenchief also said medical staff were walking in and out of the room to grab stuff.
His mom was confused and “flabbergasted” at why the nurses stuck her in the storage room. He asked the nurse but they didn’t give him an answer.
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“This is ridiculous. They told me there was nothing they could do because of doctor’s orders, but I wanted to know why they stuck my mom in a storage room,” Mistakenchief said.
“They said it’s the best they can do and that there’s no room in the hospital, but I’m looking at them and there’s an empty room behind them.
“Then they told me that other patients want that room because it’s so private.”
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Mistakenchief said his mom felt like a “throwaway.” The medical staff at Foothills Medical Centre only checked on her once during the three hours, even though it’s standard to check in every hour.
He also said she felt disrespected and that all of her dignity was stripped away from her, saying the medical staff treated her like she didn’t understand them.
Mistakenchief remembered feeling helpless and “enraged” at the situation.
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“The standard in the health-care system now has low-key racial implications… How can you rationalize treating someone like a throwaway?” Mistakenchief said.
“They think we’re not educated, but a lot of us are extremely educated. It’s not like we’re primitive people. We’re part of this society.”
Alberta Health Services said Mistakenchief’s mother was not moved to a storage room, but instead was moved to an “overcapacity space to ensure proper patient care.”
“Acute care hospitals and programs in Alberta at times, unfortunately, operate at over 100 per cent capacity where the number of patients needing hospital beds exceeds those available in the main hospital space,” an AHS statement said.
“AHS recognizes overcapacity spaces are often inconvenient and less private for patients and their families. This is why we are working hard to improve access, increase capacity, and bring emergency department wait-times down.
“We sincerely apologize for any distress this situation has caused and have spoken directly with the patient.”
‘Implicit and explicit bias’
Pamela Roach, a Canada research chair in Indigenous health systems safety, said she is not surprised that Mistakenchief’s mom was treated that way.
Indigenous people are often treated very poorly within the health system and there’s evidence to show it, she said.
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In 2019, it was reported that the federal government has not consistently tracked nor investigated poor outcomes at clinics on Indigenous reserves.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 report called on governments to increase the number of Indigenous health-care workers and ensure the retention of Indigenous health-care providers in Indigenous communities, which continues to be a struggle for many.
“It’s both an implicit and explicit bias, and there’s plenty of evidence to show that there’s lots of people who work within the health-care system who are explicitly biased against Indigenous people,” Roach told Global News.
“There are lots of implicit biases as well, because the way our education system has traditionally talked about Indigenous people is emphasizing deficits and challenges instead of strengths and the positives of being Indigenous.”
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Roach said she understands that the health-care system in Alberta is under pressure and there are capacity issues at hospitals across the province.
However, health-care workers must reflect on why they treat certain patients differently compared to others. Many aren’t aware of their implicit and explicit biases, Roach said.
“The way our health system is set up, not everyone has the same access to care. They don’t have the same access to medications and treatment,” she said.
“Sometimes what we have to do is to go public with these things… If people have the courage to actually come forward with it, that brings it to life and perhaps highlights somewhere we can improve.”
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