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Open letter to the Premier: Seven actions to stop systemic racism in our health care system

To: Premier McNeil; Minister of Health and Wellness, Randy Delorey; Deputy Minister Tom Marrie; Minister Ince, Nova Scotia Health Authority 

Date: November 18, 2019


As a white Nova Scotian woman wanting to share the burden that African Nova Scotians, and Dr. Lynn Jones in particular, face when accessing our health care system, I request the recommendations put forward below are taken seriously by this government and the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA). 

Being ill is hard for everyone. Being ill and discriminated against when accessing health services is dehumanizing and disrespectful. Racism causes emotional and mental trauma to someone who already has their health compromised, and can have a long term health impact. It is not acceptable, and is in violation of Section 5(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act. R.S., c. 214, s. 1, which states, in short: No person shall in respect of the provision of or access to services or facilities discriminate against an individual or class of individuals on account of race. 

While some steps have been taken, barriers still exist to overcome systemic racism in our health care system. I propose the following seven actions be taken by the Government of Nova Scotia, and the NSHA:

1. Identify gaps in current cultural competency training for staff, management and volunteers within the NSHA and create a plan to resolve deficiencies in consultation with Health Association of African Canadians (HAAC).

2. Cultural competency training that includes structural competency and unconscious bias be fully integrated into the core curriculum in schools of health professions in Nova Scotia..

3. a) Complaint process be reviewed with the African Nova Scotian community for cultural bias.  

   b) Complaints received from People of Colour automatically trigger notification to HAAC so the individual has someone to support and advocate for them from the beginning of the process, and to build in data collection and accountability. To enable this, that funding be provided to the Health Association of African Canadians to carry out its valuable work that includes operational funding which has never been received from the Nova Scotia Government or the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

4. Implement the collection and sharing of disaggregated MSI health data by race, ethnicity and language as requested by HAAC for close to two decades.

5. The new Deputy Minister of Health and Wellness demonstrate or acquire cultural competency training to fulfil the role on the Committee of Deputy Ministers for African Nova Scotian Issues, the implementing body for the Count Us In: Nova Scotia’s Action Plan in Response to the International Decade for the People of African Descent 2015-2024.

6. An robust budget be provided to implement the African Nova Scotian Health Strategy and that coaches trained within for the Matter of Black Health project and additional coaches, be integrated into the NS primary health care system in all regions of the province.

7. While officials at the NSHA have offered Dr Lynn Jones an apology as reported in the article, Going to the ER while Black, by Robert Devet in the Nova Scotia Advocate (Nov.14), it’s too little, too late. African Nova Scotians have been raising their frustration with being treated as outsiders in Nova Scotia’s health care system since at least 2004 (African Nova Scotians Communities Speak on October 18, 2004). HAAC has been advocating since 2000 for a healthcare system without barriers for Black Nova Scotians (“Going to the ER while Black”, NS Advocate, Nov 14). To no avail. Please ensure that commitments to addresses health inequities and disparities facing People of African Ancestry is integrated into the Nova Scotia government’s commitments in response to the soon to be released, Restorative Inquiry Report. 

Premier McNeil and Minister Delorey, I believe you owe Dr Jones and all African Nova Scotians, and People of Colour,who have experienced racism accessing healthcare services in Nova Scotia, an official apology from the Government of Nova Scotia. An apology that is genuine, shows you understand the harm done, makes plans to make amends and takes steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. 

I look forward to your response within the next two weeks. Also, I am available to meet with representatives of the NSHA and HAAC to discuss these recommendations in detail. 

Thank you.

Carol Millett

New Ross, NS

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One Comment

  1. Carol,

    You are so right. For many many years we as African Novs Scotians have rightfully complained about Racism, Racial Injustice, Intolerance, Oppression, Cultural Genocide, Forced Assimilation, Gross Generalizations, Insensitivity, Depression, The Lack of Human Rights, and the list goes on. It is all about the elephant that no one seems to acknowledge while that elephant continues to sit on us.

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