Aboriginal people feel isolated in many parts of Canada’s health care system, UBC research has found.
A study by researchers at UBC Okanagan shows that health standards and policies do not make room for aboriginal values and beliefs. Some of the identified standards include limited visiting hours, the number of people allowed to visit an ailing loved one at one time, and an inability to have indigenous holistic medicinal practices incorporated in their care.
“While standards and policies are often used to make sure people are treated equally, the research is telling us that aboriginal people may feel that those standards are based on a culture that isn’t theirs,” says Rachelle Hole, lead researcher and co-director of UBC’s Centre for Inclusion and Citizenship. “When we have a practice where we’re treating everyone the same, we’re actually not recognizing diversity or the need for cultural safety.”
The concept of cultural safety, adds Hole, originated with the Maori people of New Zealand and is based on a framework that takes into account a culture’s political status and historical experiences.
It’s encouraging to note, she says, that BC’s Interior Health authority appears to be very interested in solutions, as it has hired a full-time employee to help with cultural safety and has funded and participated in several cultural safety symposiums.
Hole’s study was conducted in cooperation with the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) and involved interviews with 28 Aboriginal people who had been primary health care patients in BC’s Interior.
The research finds that while aboriginal people did have some positive experiences, largely related to the interpersonal interactions with health care providers, the majority of participants said that their experiences were negative.
Negative experiences recorded in the study included a limit on the number of patients that could visit sick relatives, feelings of not being listened to or believed, an inability to openly involve traditional healing practices in their health care experience, and the fact that health care buildings were physically similar to infrastructure used in residential schools.
“Cultural safety creates a space where Aboriginal people and hospital administrators and other practitioners can work together to improve the medical experience for our people,” says Pauline Terbasket, ONA executive director. “UBC Okanagan Research has provided the foundation for this partnership and this important cultural understanding and education awareness.”
Hole’s research was recently published in Qualitative Health Research (qhr.sagepub.com/content/25/12/1662.abstract).