An Indigenous woman who recorded an encounter between her elderly father and a Yellowknife Primary Care Centre technician says she faced discrimination and harassment when staff demanded she delete the video.
Yellowknifer has agreed to grant the woman anonymity, as she has expressed concern about having her or her father’s identity revealed. Yellowknifer will refer to her as Mary.
Mary says she went with her father, a hard of hearing man in his 80s who suffers from cancer and diabetes, to the clinic in mid-March, where he underwent tests on his heart.
The pair were ushered into a testing room after some confusion over whether or not they needed a form containing her father’s most up-to-date medical information, said Mary. They entered the testing room after being told a form wasn’t required, and a technician began asking her father questions, she said.
But Mary said her father couldn’t hear the questions, prompting her to tell the employee to raise his voice so that he could understand, which seemed to leave the technician “annoyed.”
Mary said the technician then asked her father for his height and weight. But her father didn’t know the correct answers, she said, prompting her to ask the technician why he didn’t have access to that information, which she believed was on the form kept across the hall. Mary said she was concerned incorrect information could have a negative impact on the test.
Mary claims the technician then became noticeably irritated, asking her “what do you need me to do?” in a disrespectful tone.
“I thought, I don’t like this,” recalled Mary. “So, I got up and I started recording the test.”
Mary said the technician knew she was recording with her phone and never objected over the course of the 15-minute test. Yellowknifer has reviewed the video, which mainly shows a testing monitor, from a distance, in a darkened room.
Mary said she began filming in the event “anything happens,” so that she’d have a record of the encounter.
When Mary and her father went to exit the testing room, she said she was met by the technician and another female employee, who told her recordings on the premises were prohibited. The woman, Mary alleges, demanded she delete the video, telling her that if she left the building without doing so she’d be breaking the law, and that someone would be “contacting her.”
‘I just felt so bullied’
“The way she did it was incredibly threatening. She followed me everywhere,” said Mary.
Mary said she asked the employee to see in writing the policy that prohibits recording, but says she was given a “request to access” information form — a way a patient can obtain medical information following a test. Mary said the form was absent of any recording restrictions.
She said she didn’t want to delete the video, but didn’t want to break the law by leaving, so she stayed for about an hour and a half.
Her father told her it felt like they were being held “hostage,” Mary said.
The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA), which oversees the delivery of health and social services in the territory, does not have a “general policy that applies to patients recording their clinical interactions with their health care provider,” according to spokesperson David Maguire.
But there are recording restrictions for specific areas, stated Maguire in an email, including diagnostic imaging units. This is done to ensure a “standardized way” for patients to view their diagnostic images after testing, he stated. Maguire confirmed diagnostic imaging services are provided at the Yellowknife Primary Care Clinic.
Asked to confirm or deny the allegations, Maguire wrote the health authority couldn’t comment on specific cases or incidents due to privacy requirements.
Mary says she’s unsure if the test was conducted in an imaging unit, but the monitor on the video appears to show a digital image of her father’s heart.
Mary said a risk management employee later arrived at the centre, where she apologized to both Mary and her father. Mary said the employee told her she did not have to delete the video.
If recording was against policy, Mary said she would have complied and deleted the video, but instead of being shown in writing, she says she was shown hostility and “abuse.”
“I just felt so bullied,” she said.
Mistrust from painful past experiences
For Mary, her decision to record the interaction was rooted in deep-seated mistrust borne from painful past encounters.
In 2015, Mary said doctors told her mother she would be out of the hospital and onto physiotherapy in two weeks. Her mother died in hospital the next day.
After her father was diagnosed with cancer, Mary said a doctor in Yellowknife told him he had five years left to live. A doctor in Edmonton, according to Mary, told him he had two years.
The “horrific” experience at the clinic, she believes, is a symptom of a greater problem faced by many Indigenous people.
“As Indigenous people — we’re so dismissed,” said Mary, adding she’s been treated “very badly” during other interactions with health care providers. She said she feels “targeted” to be harassed, ignored and pushed aside.
Mary is calling for more Indigenous people to be hired in health care environments because during the ordeal, “there was no Indigenous presence at all.”
“Strengthening staff capacity for cultural safety,” is one of four objectives included in the Health Department’s 2018-2020 Cultural Safety Action Plan, which was recently tabled to address rising concerns about discrimination and a lack of cultural sensitivity and understanding in NWT’s health care system.
The death of Hugh Papik, whose stroke in 2016 was dismissed by Aklavik Health Centre staff as drunkenness, acted as a major catalyst in forming the action plan. After consultations, the department stated an “underlying theme” was the “importance of cultural safety; an outcome where Indigenous peoples feel safe and respected, and free of racism and discrimination when accessing health and social services,” according to its website.
Mary said she hopes cultural sensitivity training doesn’t just amount to a checkbox being ticked off.
On the health authority’s end, Maguire stated, “We understand that some patients/clients may wish to record their appointment, in order to build a trusting and respectful relationship, we encourage clients to be forthright with their care provider that they are recording conversations.”
“We will be working on developing an applicable policy to bring further clarity to this issue,” he added.