Assetou Coubily is sharing her negative experience at Royal Jubilee Hospital on May 10, where she frets her race played into the care she received. (Jake Romphf/ News Staff)

Assetou Coubily is sharing her negative experience at Royal Jubilee Hospital on May 10, where she frets her race played into the care she received. (Jake Romphf/ News Staff)

Black woman worries racial bias affected her care at B.C. hospital

She reluctantly visited ER on doctor’s urging, says staff disregarded her pain, concerns

Assetou Coulibaly had a headache for two weeks by the time her friends convinced her to seek medical help on May 10.

That eventually led to an experience at Royal Jubilee Hospital, where she fears her being Black played into nurses disregarding her pain and concerns, to the point where she suffered a panic attack.

She acknowledges that ER workers are extremely stressed due to the pandemic, but says her experience highlights the hesitancy Black women feel when it comes to seeking medical treatment.

“We find the medical system to us is what cops are to Black men,” she said.

When she called a clinic about her symptoms, a doctor told Coulibaly to go to the emergency ward immediately, fearing she could have meningitis and be seriously at risk.

Already wary of hospitals, Coulibaly heeded the urgent advice. After an eight-hour wait in the ER with her head still pounding, she was in a consultation room with a doctor who she says seemed more concerned about her condition than triage staff.

Originally from Mali and having lived all over the world, Coulibaly grew up seeing doctors who were immersed in treating BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) patients. She says the care from those doctors contrasts with her treatment at Royal Jubilee and elsewhere in Canada.

“They didn’t have those biases because they’ve been exposed and they have learned from those people,” she said of her initial contacts with practitioners.

After she received a CT scan at RJH, two nurses entered Coulibaly’s room and said they were going to draw blood and put an IV in simultaneously. Coulibaly warned that her small, finicky veins usually require a specialist to find. She said the nurses, however, unsuccessfully jabbed her several times in each arm in search of a vein, which left her in pain.

READ: 71% BIPOC experience racism in Greater Victoria, report finds

READ: Indigenous patients face higher risk of death post-surgery, study suggests

She expressed her pain to the nurses, but said they seemed “offended” by her reaction. The pain made her get stressed, which compounded when the nurses wouldn’t answer her questions about the IV medication she was about to receive, she said. As the meds flowed in, Coulibaly felt an “immensely weird” sensation, causing her to panic.

“I said, ‘You guys didn’t warn me about anything.’ I was freaking out and they were just standing and looking at me with a complete look of apathy,” she said.

Now panicking, she muttered that she wanted her mom.

“(The nurse) said, ‘well since she’s not here you’re just going to have to deal with it, aren’t you,’” Coulibaly said. “I just kept crying, I was like ‘I want to go home, I want to go home’ to myself and she was like ‘Well if you go home nobody’s going to give you care.’”

The nurses left as Coulibaly started to calm down, but she was still shaken. Over an hour passed and nobody checked up on her condition. After multiple failed attempts of getting staff’s attention, Coulibaly left for home as she started to panic again.

READ: ‘Belittled and dismissed:’ Former patients of Victoria Psychiatric Emergency Services call for change

“I was told to come here because a medical professional who assessed me told me he was concerned for my well-being, because he was concerned I would die if there was something wrong,” she said. “If I have to die, I will die peacefully in my bed, not here.”

She frets her race played into the care she received.

“I got an unbiased diagnosis over the phone because the doctor didn’t know what I look like,” she said. “Once I was at the hospital, I was disregarded.”

She hopes nurses and hospital staff receive up-to-date training on racial bias and how to treat BIPOC patients who may be wary of the medical system. A statement from Island Health didn’t answer whether its medical staff receives racial bias training.

Island Health doesn’t discuss individual cases due to patient privacy. Their patient care quality office fields and investigates negative experience complaints.

“This process allows Island Health to constantly evaluate and improve our services, systems and policies,” the statement said, adding they’re “committed to cultural safety and humility, anti-racism and anti-oppression are part of our core work and we are working to improve every day.”

Coulibaly has submitted her experience to the office.

Island Health says its Indigenous liaison nurse program exists because “colonialism and systemic racism have significant negative impacts on the health of Indigenous peoples in British Columbia.” It did not say if similar programs exist for non-Indigenous BIPOC patients.

READ: Abbotsford councillor’s post about Nazi Germany puts her in hot water


Do you have a story tip? Email: jake.romphf@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

HealthcareracismRoyal Jubilee HospitalVictoria

Just Posted

Jean-Pierre Antonio
Article chronicling haiku in Japanese internment camp near Hope wins award

Tashme Haiku Club’s work was preserved and recently translated, authors write

Kindergarten kids from Evans elementary school in Chilliwack painted rocks with orange hearts and delivered them to Sto:lo Elders Lodge recently after learning about residential schools. (Laura Bridge photo)
Kindergarten class paints rocks with orange hearts in Chilliwack for local elders

‘Compassion and empathy’ being shown by kids learning about residential schools

Chilliwack potter Cathy Terepocki (left) and Indigenous enhancement teachers Val Tosoff (striped top) and Christine Seymour (fuchsia coat), along with students at Vedder middle school, look at some of the 500-plus pinch pots on Thursday, June 10 made by the kids to honour the 215 children found at Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack students make hundreds of tiny clay pots in honour of 215 Indigenous children

‘I think the healing process has begun,’ says teacher about Vedder middle school project

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Webinar looks at sexual abuse prevention among adolescents

Vancouver/Fraser Valley CoSA hosts free online session on June 15

Emergency services were on the scene of an apparent stabbing Friday afternoon (June 11) in the 2400 block of Countess Street in Abbotsford. (Photo: Kaytlin Harrison)
Two suspects arrested after apparent stabbing in Abbotsford

Incident occurs Friday afternoon in 2400 block of Countess Street

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Most Read