'I feared for his life': Indigenous people in northern Ontario decry racism in health care
TIMMINS -- Dominic Hookimaw in Attawapiskat tells his sister in Cree over the phone that he's slowly recovering from violence that put him on an emergency flight to Health Sciences North (HSN) in Sudbury.
Among his injuries were damage to his brain and neck. They feel the hospital discharged him too early.
"We were shocked when we saw the discharge notes that it said 'small headache, fit to travel, resume normal diet,'" said Jackie Hookimaw-Witt.
"How can you say that he is fit to travel, meanwhile, you know, his brain is bleeding?"
Hookimaw-Witt said her brother's condition worsened, including vomiting, headaches and lack of coordination, which she said prevented him from accessing transportation home, since they could be considered symptoms of COVID-19.
She and Hookimaw sought the second opinion of a doctor in North Bay, who Hookimaw-Witt said told them not only was Hookimaw still in need of emergency care, but that medication prescribed to him by HSN was improper for his condition and making it worse.
They then went to the North Bay Regional Health Centre, where Hookimaw-Witt said staff took more time to examine Hookimaw, explain the situation and connect with them on a cultural level.
With his sister translating for him, Hookimaw said that level of care was lacking at Sudbury's hospital.
"I don't feel right that they discharged me like that, especially when I was still sick," Hookimaw said in Cree. "It was sub-standard treatment."
Sudbury hospital responds
CTV reached out to HSN for comment and while it could not speak about particular patients, the hospital issued a statement.
"HSN is dedicated to providing a culturally safe environment that supports diversity and inclusivity for patients, visitors and staff," the statement read.
"As such, we take complaints related to discrimination very seriously and would encourage anyone who has felt they have not received proper care or been mistreated to follow up directly with our patient relations department."
HSN went on to note that it offers language translation, Indigenous liaisons, support workers and healing spaces to accommodate Indigenous language and cultural practices.
Hookimaw said none of those services were offered to him during his treatment. HSN didn't respond to CTV's follow-up questions on this.
Hookimaw-Witt said if those services had been offered when her brother needed them, it would have boosted his recovery.
"That would have helped," she said, "Dominic would have said, 'I'm still in pain, why are you discharging me?'"
"I feared for his life," Hookimaw-Witt said.
Similar incident in Timmins
Meanwhile, Patrick Etherington Jr., who lives on the street in Timmins, needed medical attention at Timmins and District Hospital after he was attacked in March.
He told his father that support workers were not offered, that he felt staff discriminated against him and that the hospital tried to discharge him too early.
Speaking on his son's behalf while he focuses on treating his alcoholism, Patrick Etherington Sr. said he fought to get him two more days of care.
"To have him stay there until he was able to (recover from) ... the blurry (vision) and also the concussion that had happened," Etherington said.
When asked for comment, Timmins and District Hospital emailed CTV saying it frequently works to train and educate staff on cultural sensitivity, provide culturally safe services and work with local Indigenous organizations through its Indigenous advisory committee to provide quality care.
Grand chief calls out healthcare
When Jonathan Solomon, the Grand Chief of the Mushkegowuk Council of Chiefs, got word of these claims of mistreatment, he called it evidence of a persistent systemic problem.
"It is very unfortunate that our members continue to be treated in a discriminatory manner when receiving health care," Solomon wrote in an emailed statement to CTV.
"Systemic racism heavily exists in our health systems, locally and regionally. We are trying to address some of these issues with the City of Timmins, through our relationship agreement. This is a work in progress."
Solomon is encouraging anyone in the Indigenous community concerned about discrimination in their healthcare to contact Mushkegowuk Council.
For Jackie Hookimaw-Witt, she hopes HSN offers her family an apology and that some restitution is made for the hundreds of dollars in residential school settlement money that she said her brother paid for hotels, while they tried to find proper care.
Most of all, Hookimaw-Witt said she hopes hospitals commit to providing Indigenous people with the language, culture and support services they need.
Etherington Sr. hopes there will be more dialogue between hospitals and the Indigenous community to address issues of discrimination, racism and classism in healthcare.
Now on a long road to recovery, Dominic Hookimaw said he has one wish from the healthcare system after his ordeal.
"I don't want anyone else to go through that."