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

Students at Creston Valley Secondary School put together an art installation of a replica residential school room. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Creston students create art installation of residential school room

The replica was decorated with a small bed, school uniform, and notes written with pleas for help

An example of the kinds of invasive plants that can be found in Golden. (Tesia Hackett photo)
Golden annual weedpull back for 14th year

Invasive plants can be harmful to local ecosystems, Wildsight says

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

BC CDC map showing the geographic distribution of cases in the province. (BC CDC photo)
No new cases of COVID-19 in Golden

The last time the BC CDC reported a new case in the area was the week of May 23-29

Prince Charles Secondary School
School District 8 votes in favour of name change for Secondary School in Creston

In an act of reconciliation, a new name will be chosen for Prince Charles Secondary School

Bear wanders Kelowna on June 15. (Michelle Wallace/Facebook)
Bear climbs fence, uses crosswalk in Kelowna

The bear was spotted on Baron Road Wednesday evening

Hundreds of people, young and old, joined the three-day Walking Our Spirits Home procession, honouring residential school survivors, those who never made it home and all those affected by the institutions. Here people walk the third portion on June 13. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Walking Our Spirits Home from Kamloops provides path to healing

First Nations in and beyond Secwépemc territory join in to honour residential school survivors

More flames
UPDATE: Lake Country home destroyed in massive blaze

Fire crews are responding to 10839 Hallam Drive

(Facebook/Kelowna Cabs)
Kelowna Cabs reaches tentative agreement with dispatchers union

The tentative agreement could help end the dispute between the taxi company and the dispatchers

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

201 First Street West 1980s. Prior revitalization. (Photo from Revelstoke Museum and Archives)
Man who redesigned downtown Revelstoke honoured with lifetime achievement award

Robert Inwood has worked on historical projects across the province

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

The weekly COVID-19 map for June 6 to 12. (BC CDC)
South Okanagan sees only 5 new cases in last week

The Similkameen Valley went a second week without any new cases

Most Read