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

Jack Sutter’s show Shapes in Metal is currently on display in one of the side 
galleries at the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre. (Contributed)
Art for everyone: Variety of artists currently at Revelstoke gallery show

See water colours, photographs and metal sculptures until June 25

The CP station at Glacier was built in 1916. It is located at the western end of the Connaught Tunnel in Glacier National Park. This photo was taken in mid-June, 2021. (Contributed)
LETTER: Historic but not preserved

Submit letters to the editor to jocelyn.doll@revelstokereview.com

Tania McCabe is the city’s director of finance. (File photo)
What’s going on with my property taxes? Q&A with Tania McCabe

Deadline to pay property taxes in Revelstoke is July 2 this year

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Fruit farmers in the Okanagan and Creston valleys are in desperate need of cherry harvesters amid COVID-19 work shortages. (Photo: Unsplash/Abigail Miller)
‘Desperate’ need for workers at Okanagan cherry farms

Fruit farmers are worried they’ll have to abandon crops due to COVID-19 work shortages

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Jaimee Peters photo of a Willow Midwives helping with a birth. Willow closed its doors March 31 because of a shortage of midwives. (Contributed)
South Okanagan’s only midwifery to re-open this summer

Willow Community Midwives was forced to close because of a shortage of midwives

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Gord with a mom and her young son outside Pathways which was defunded on May 31. (Facebook)
Gord Portman with a mom and her child outside of Pathways. The sign says it all about the difference Pathways has made in people’s lives. They were defunded by Interior Health on May 31.
Penticton man takes the plunge for the recovery house that helped save his life

Gord Portman said Discovery House and Pathways have been everything in his 1 year sobriety

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

Most Read