Racism, institutional abuse or both?

As someone who has been watching Nova Scotia’s health care system, it is not beyond belief to think racism exists within the managerial ranks, who also show inclinations for bullying employees.

The subject of racism in health care has been brought to headlines by accusations of former Capital Health counselor, Tony Smith.


Beyond unions warring over which will represent what group of workers, labour relations in health care are not good. The accreditation reports for the various health authorities show that at least 52 percent of health care workers don’t trust their employer. That’s not a healthy situation. And it’s why the annual lists of top employers should be read with healthy skepticism. The organizations conducting those surveys never speak to the workers to learn what their workplace is like. All that is required for inclusion on these lists is for a manager or managerial team to tick boxes on a form. There is no follow up to see if these employers actually implement their policies.

For example, new parents are allowed maternity and paternity leave. Well, I’ve been told of a manager who, because of bad scheduling on her part, pressured one father to return to work early. He refused. So when his leave was up his manager bullied him so extensively, probably in the hope of provoking a response that would get him fired, that he filed a grievance with his union. The solution hammered out prevents this manager from speaking to this employee, they are only allowed to communicate in writing. That contributes to workplace toxicity, as does the hiring of a vice president’s boyfriend for an undefined position when an authority makes cutbacks in other areas. These are not something top employer lists consider. And they are nowhere near the more salacious activities.

Going to the original complaint of racism, the most jaw-dropping example was the Registered Nurse who told me of a job interview at Capital Health. This RN, who is not in the province, had a specialty and was twice interviewed by another RN who headed a team in this area. The team leader said she had to send the RN for a pro forma interview with someone in Human Resources before a job could be offered.

During the interview, the HR manager told this RN, who is a member of a visible minority, “You’ll never work here. ******* like you cause a lot of trouble for people like us.” I suppose a warped defense is that the HR manager was addressing what she perceived was this RN’s religious/cultural background, not skin colour, even though ethnicity probably lead to the conclusion.

The RN, who was stunned by what was said, didn’t lay a complaint believing since no one else heard it, it boiled down to one person’s word against another. (They did mention it to the RN who conducted the original interviews and moved on.) How many times does this happen in health care, both in human resources management and patient care?

In this province we have a number of examples of institutional abuse and racism (Shelburne School for Boys, NS School for Coloured Children, residential schools), so why would we be surprised to find it in health care?

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2 Responses to Racism, institutional abuse or both?

  1. woof says:

    I have witnessed bullying by some administrators, who are the very ones whose job it is promote anti-bullying and to protect the bullied. In some cases this bullying is being done to intimidate workers to do their basic jobs (which some employees have difficulty with on account of just being lazy … the employee takes this as bullying) and in just as many cases the bullying takes the form of personal dislike.

    I have also witnessed administrators who will go out of their way to protect anyone they think is being bullied and discourage any type of bullying from other staff. Believe it or not,there are some very compassionate and caring administrators in the system. Humans are human and some humans are ass–les.

    Racism? I find it extremely difficult to believe it still exists in the system and anyone practicing it should be dismissed immediately: no sensitivity training, no counselling. Do that on your own dime and time. And because you don’t get that job and are in a minority doesn’t necessarily indicate anyone is being racist, maybe you’re not the one for the job. The “R” word is sometimes the first reaction to some.

    • Agreed. The example I provided about the RN was true discrimination. That RN was immediately snapped up by another authority and had repeated, excellent performance reviews prior to leaving the province.

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