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 Victoria’s Royal Jubilee 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

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes following provincial reopening announcement

Recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

HMCS Corner Brook returned to Victoria’s waters for the first time since 2015 on June 10. (Courtesy of the Royal Canadian Navy)
WATCH: Navy surveillance submarine returning to Victoria waters

HMCS Corner Brook one of first submarines to receive new communications systems

A new multi-family residential project at the corner of Hillside Avenue and Cook Street will feature nine below market-priced units aimed at middle-income, first-time homebuyers, through a partnership between BC Housing and the developer. (Courtesy City of Victoria)
Middle-income first time homebuyers gain access to nine homes in Victoria

BC Housing partners with development community to create affordable purchases

(Black Press Media file photo)
COVID-19 exposure closes Oak Bay pub, restaurant

Penny Farthing, Vis-a-Vis expected to reopen Wednesday after deep clean

Victoria police officers used less-lethal weapons to arrest a woman Sunday night after she allegedly attacked a man with a hammer. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria police use less-lethal weapons on woman following hammer attack

Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team called to barricade situation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials watching U.K.’s Delta variant struggles, ‘may need to slow’ restart plan

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Calgary Stampeders’ Jerome Messam leaps over a tackle during second half CFL western semifinal football action in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CFL football will be played this summer in Canada

Governors vote unanimously in favour to start the ‘21 campaign on Aug. 5

Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. The federal government is announcing that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their names on passports and other government documents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous people can now reclaim traditional names on their passports and other ID

Announcement applies to all individuals of First Nations, Inuit and Métis background

Harvesting hay in the Fraser Valley. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
COVID-19: B.C. waives farm income requirement for a second year

Property owners don’t need minimum income for 2022 taxes

Cruise ship passengers arrive at Juneau, Alaska in 2018. Cruise lines have begun booking passengers for trips from Seattle to Alaska as early as this July, bypassing B.C. ports that are not allowed to have visitors until March 2022 under a Canadian COVID-19 restrictions. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)
B.C. doesn’t depend on U.S. law to attract cruise ships, Horgan says

Provinces to get update next week on Canada’s border closure

Most Read