Interior Health backs off appointments for new Aboriginal roles after staff backlash | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Interior Health backs off appointments for new Aboriginal roles after staff backlash

An ambulance arrives at the Kelowna General Hospital ER.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/KGH Foundation
July 10, 2021 - 7:00 AM

Interior Health’s new Aboriginal Partnerships portfolio is off to a rocky start after non-Indigenous senior managers appointed two non-Indigenous directors to the department without seeking Indigenous candidates for the roles or allowing the new Indigenous Vice-President to choose her own team.

Staff in the department were so upset about the process that some sent emails to President and CEO Susan Brown and the Interior Health Board of Directors urging them to reconsider. They viewed the new department as an opportunity to empower and encourage First Nations to take a greater role in health care from inside as well as outside the organization.

On June 1, 2021, Interior Health announced it hired a new vice-president for Aboriginal Partnerships. That role was won by Addie Pryce, who has “worked exclusively in Aboriginal health programming within regional and national organizations." She is also from the Nisga’a Nation of Ginglox. She is due to start Aug. 3.

But rather than let Pryce choose her own team, senior executive appointed the two non-Indigenous directors on its own.

“Normally, in management you would wait for the new person,” a source in the health care system told iNFOnews.ca “They would come up with what their needs are and then they would have selected their team. Parachuting two (non-Indigenous) people into Aboriginal Health, given what has gone on the last few months, is beyond shocking.”

He noted two locations where First Nations children were found buried near residential schools were within Interior Health's region.

READ MORE: 'Horrified and heartbroken': Communities in mourning after children found buried at former Kamloops residential school

The source was granted anonymity for legitimate fears they could lose their job for speaking out.

The two directors were well-qualified for the positions but the issue for staff was the lack of transparency in the hiring process. The director roles were not advertised, no efforts were made to find Indigenous candidates and it wasn’t open to competition.

The backlash has forced Interior Health to back down. The source says after the emails were sent, Interior Health gave both directors 24 hours to consider if they’d prefer to return to their former jobs and relinquish the director roles. Both directors agreed to step back.

In a July 9 memo to staff, Brown said Interior Health will post and recruit for the roles of Corporate Director, Aboriginal Health and Wellness, and Corporate Director, Aboriginal Cultural Safety and Humility. She said there is no need for these positions to be held by Indigenous people.

“Comments made to (the directors) directly and to others suggest(ed) that (the) process to appoint them was discriminatory towards potential Aboriginal candidates who should have been given preference,” she wrote. "The comments implied that to be qualified for a role in this portfolio the leaders must themselves be Aboriginal. This is not true, as across our organization we encourage and value the participation of all people, working side-by-side, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.”

But the source said no one in the department suggested they must be Indigenous.

"If they did a recruitment search and couldn’t find anyone, fine. If the new person came in and searched and couldn’t find anyone, fine. But they didn’t do that. It’s the fact these were appointments by the vice-president of human resources.”

The changes in the department come after the In Plain Sight report by Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, an investigation into racist practices in B.C. health care. It was ordered by Health Minister Adrian Dix after reports surfaced about Emergency Department staff in B.C. allegedly playing the ‘price is right’ game by guessing blood alcohol levels of Indigenous patients and families. Turpel-Lafond called for systemic changes.

"The issue here is this is a large multi-billion-dollar organization that should know hiring practices and what has happened in health care in the past and not bypass that by simply appointing people,” the source said. “We think all of us know better for (Indigenous people) and how they should do things. We need to let them control their own destiny. How do we fix and improve care for Aboriginals when we can’t even see them in the leadership ranks?”

Mal Griffin, vice-president of Human Resources, said in an interview that Interior Health wanted to move swiftly to fill the two director positions after vacancies opened up. He said it’s a busy time in Interior Health with an active fire season impacting several First Nations within the region.

“We were in a position where we wanted to fill those roles quickly,” he said.

Griffin was asked several times if he consulted with Pryce about the appointments. He eventually said yes, she was consulted about the hiring of these two directors. iNFOnews.ca could not reach Pryce for comment.

Griffin backed up Brown’s comments that there's no requirement or preference for Indigenous leaders in the Aboriginal Partnerships portfolio.

“It’s not just Aboriginal people in an Aboriginal portfolio that we need, we need Aboriginal people across IH in every portfolio and we need non-Aboriginal people working in the Aboriginal portfolio so that we can learn and grow together to change the culture and improve the way we deliver care."

Among the recommendations from Turpel-Lafond’s report was for health authorities to “recruit Indigenous individuals to senior positions to oversee and promote needed system change.”

"Increasing the number of Indigenous health care workers is a critical strategy to enhance cultural safety within the health care system,” she concluded.

She also found significant gaps in access to health care for First Nations and Metis people and that racism in the health care system was, in itself, a factor in poor health outcomes.

Part of her report involved surveys from existing health care workers and found 13 per cent of responses contained “at least one racially antagonistic comment in the survey. Some of these respondents denied that racism exists in the healthcare system, others believed that Indigenous people need to adapt to the health care system as it currently exists or expressed other racist sentiments."


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