Hospital staff will ask Manitobans to self-identify race in effort to reduce health-system discrimination


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Starting in April, Manitoba will become the first province to ask hospital patients to identify their race.

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Starting in April, Manitoba will become the first province to ask hospital patients to identify their race.

The collection of racial data is aimed at tackling systemic discrimination of patients and health-care workers and could lead to changes in triage and worker retention, Dr. Marcia Anderson hopes.

Anderson, executive director of Indigenous affairs at Ongomiizwin, the Institute of Health and Healing within the University of Manitoba’s faculty of Health Sciences, has been working on the idea for years as an extension of the Truth And Reconciliation Commission’s call to action for the health-care system.

“There is widespread evidence that Black, Indigenous and racialized folks actually receive significantly unequal care by race,” because of layers of racism in the health system, she said. “And if we are not able to hold up that mirror and use data and evidence, what happens is a failure to act to change.”

Other provinces are collecting race data in different ways, but Manitoba’s approach will be the first time in Canada patients can choose to self-identify their race each time they visit any hospital or acute-care health centre across the province. Shared Health and provincial health agencies will be using the data to make changes, and the first results could become available within six months to a year, Anderson said.

The first priorities she’d like to tackle include analyzing ER wait times for racialized people and experiences of racialized health-care workers.

“There’s already data that Black and Indigenous people wait longer in emergency rooms. I think we need to know, is that happening here, so we can take action,” she said Thursday, adding health-care workers also experience racism on a regular basis, and understanding that could help Manitoba reduce staff shortages.

“If we disrupt and dismantle systemic racism in health care, because of the way it impacts workers, too, that is going to help us stabilize the health workforce.”

Thursday’s announcement from the U of M in partnership with the provincial government and Shared Health comes after health agencies have promised to work toward reconciliation. Last fall, Health Minister Audrey Gordon and the Northern Regional Health Authority signed a formal declaration acknowledging and pledging to eradicate anti-Indigenous racism in Manitoba’s health-care system. Earlier this week, representatives of Manitoba’s College of Physicians and Surgeons apologized in person to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs for anti-Indigenous racism within medical practice.

Anderson was the public health lead for the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Coordination Response Team, which used race-based data to shape Manitoba’s vaccine rollout. Although related work began pre-pandemic, it was the first time race-based data was systematically collected and used to inform provincial health policy. They learned the public had an appetite for this kind of data.

“This experience during the COVID-19 pandemic created space for us to accelerate the work provincially,” she said.

More public education will happen in the coming weeks before patients will be asked to self-identify in hospital. The information is voluntary and patients can decline to provide it. They’ll be able to choose from a list of identities including First Nations Status, Inuit or Métis, or Black, Filipino, Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern or White.

Anderson, a longtime advocate for collection of the data, had input on national standards for its collection through the Canadian Institute for Health Information. She said the work is gratifying.

“Similarly to the work we were able to do as part of the Manitoba First Nations pandemic response coordination team, this will be a highlight of my career once we actually start collecting the data and using it in line with those data governance principles around community ownership and data sovereignty.”

Katie May

Katie May

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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