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First Nation family launches complaint over treatment at Port Alberni hospital

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A Hesquiaht First Nation family has launched a complaint with Island Health over the care their late father received at Port Alberni’s West Coast General Hospital, citing concerns about alleged inadequate and negligent care that caused them to worry about his well-being.

The Charleson family hand-delivered their letter to executive staff at the hospital, where several Island Health employees greeted them and apologized before an audience of allies that joined the family.

“We don’t want anybody else to go through what we endured,” said Patrick Charleson Jr.'s son Patrick Charleson III. “We shouldn’t have to be scared to come up to the hospital for care.”

The Charlesons say their father Patrick Jr. was a strong man who loved and cared for his family and community. He was a grandfather, fisherman, uncle, friend, and survivor of residential school.

His children say their concerns with the way the family was treated stem from their father’s last two months of life – where he was receiving care at WCGH from December 2022 to February 2023.

“There was different treatment here for our people in the hospital,” says Patrick Jr.’s daughter Heather Charleson.

They fear their father was being over-medicated, and claim he wasn’t being properly informed about his care, had his traditional medicine taken away and received poor care overall that felt rooted in racism.

“We witnessed my dad halfway off the bed and his feet were on the floor and he was like naked. The only thing that was covered was hit privates. When I walked in he was hanging onto the rail, his feet were on the floor. He was sweating,” says the son.

“It hurts. It really hurts, especially when you come to a place of care,” says Heather.

Island Health’s executive director for rural/remote strategy was among the staff meeting with the Charlesons to receive the letter – and apologized to the family.

“We’re going to take that letter and we’re going to learn from that,” says Max Jajszczok.

B.C.’s health minister is expressing his condolences to the Charleson family through a statement to CTV News.

“I take reports of racism and discrimination in the health-care system extremely seriously,” says Adrian Dix. “Discriminatory behaviour in any health-care setting is unacceptable, and violates our principles, policies and values.”

Dix apologized to Indigenous people in November 2020 following the release of an independent report.

In Plain Sight gave the province 24 recommendations for improvement – after finding four in five Indigenous people have experienced racism in health care.

“We’re early on our journey as a health system and we’re early on our journey working with community within this hospital to continue to address systemic racism and racism that’s being experienced by individuals that are receiving care,” says Jajszczok. “That report and other reports help provide the framework and the information that we need to be able to continue to work forward.”

The Charlesons hope by coming forward with their experience, others won’t have to.

“Our people are really resistant coming to this hospital because of the treatment,” says Heather. “Our goal today is to ensure that there is change for our people.”

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