During convention, the CFNU hosted a panel discussion on the impacts of racism in health care. The panel was made up of Dr. Carrie Bourassa, Dr. Monica Dutt, and Cynthia Mascoll; it was moderated by Yasmin Gardaad, a government relations officer with the CFNU. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly sharpened our focus on systemic racism and how it contributes to health disparities, but as our panelists emphasized, these issues existed long before.
“COVID-19 has the same patterns that we see with almost any other health conditions: diabetes, COPD, heart disease,” explained Dr. Monica Dutt. “People who are facing systemic oppression are going to have worse health outcomes.”
“It doesn’t need to be that way, but it is what we see.”
This point was echoed by Cynthia Mascoll, a nurse and member of the Ontario Nurses’ Association. She believes racism should be considered a co-morbidity.
“Racism has a physiological effect on your body,” Mascoll explained. Stress is known to be related to illness and longevity. For Black, Indigenous and people of colour, a significant source of stress comes from navigating a society where they are routinely met with microaggressions, oppression, discrimination and racism.
When racialized people enter the health care system, just being heard can be an uphill battle. Mascoll recounted how many of the racialized patients she sees often arrive worse off than white patients.
“Sometimes it takes them going to several doctors [before finally finding a doctor who will] believe what they’re telling them.”
She also pointed to studies that demonstrate how medical professionals tend to under-treat Black patients’ pain – often, this is based on a racist idea that Black bodies are biologically different, and that Black people have a higher tolerance for pain.
Speaking about how structural racism affects Indigenous populations, Dr. Carrie Bourassa said we must take into account a number of unaddressed social determinants of health. For example, some communities have been living with boil advisories that have been going on for upwards of 30 years. According to Statistics Canada data from 2016, 27.4 per cent of the people on reserves lived in over-crowded housing and close to a quarter lived in a home that needed major repairs.
While many Indigenous people live in rural and remote communities, access to care isn’t the only barrier they face; the fear of anti-indigenous racism in health care can lead many to not seek care in the first place.
“We have to create culturally safe care and we have to ensure that the social determinants of health are being addressed in the rural and remote communities,” said Bourassa.
Dismantling structures that uphold and reinforce inequity requires a concerted and sustained effort. One thing all our panelists agreed on: we have to listen to the people who are affected.
“Many [people] have been saying that these inequities exist, particularly people who experience them directly,” said Dutt.” I think there’s always a caution around sometimes – until a study is done or the data is there – people get dismissed for their personal experiences.”
“[We need to acknowledge] the importance of listening to people’s stories and recognize that the inequities and oppression exist.”
To watch the complete recording of our human rights and equity panel, click here (skip to the 18:15 mark)