Racism Hurts NursesWednesday, July 28 2010
Toronto's visible minority nurses may face backlash from their co-workers and superiors if they don't accept an increased work- load and extra shift work, a study has found.
Non-minority nurses benefit from such "systemic racist practices," said the Canadian Race Relations Foundation study released yesterday.
In the four-year period following the Tory provincial government's 1996 repeal of the Employment Equity Act, $7 million was spent on settling discrimination grievances in Greater Toronto hospitals, according to the report, titled "Implementing Accountability for Equity: Ending Racial Backlash in Nursing."
The seven-person team led by University of Toronto nursing professor Rebecca Hagey examined other studies on racism in health-care professions.
The team also surveyed 62 nurses (blacks, Asians, Europeans and Latinos) on their workplace experiences. There were 57 female and three male participants; two did not specify gender.
Visible minority nurses told researchers they were compelled to take additional shifts and bad hours or risk facing repercussions from their colleagues and administration.
"The situation is such that racialized nurses are reluctant to complain about discrimination for fear of being 'set up' for job transfers or job loss," Hagey said yesterday. "If they complain, they get targeted as 'problem nurses' so that terminating them during so-called restructuring is seen as a rational move."
Hagey admitted that 62 is a small sample and the nurses' experiences were subject to their interpretation of events, but those reported experiences were not found to the same extent in comparable studies of their predominantly white counterparts.
Merle Jacobs, a psychiatric nurse from Burma, interned and worked at the same North York hospital since she moved to Canada in 1966. When the hospital was amalgamated in 1997, she and another black woman were the only ones among the seven nursing managers who were not offered the same severance packages.
Jacobs said she took the case to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, but was told it would take a long time to pursue the complaint. She later filed a lawsuit against her employer and the case was eventually settled with compensation awarded to the complainant.
"The practice of setup has been around for a long time, but it's so subtle and people are afraid to complain," said Jacobs. "When I started to make noises, I was fired due to 'restructuring.' When you settle a case, they have you sign a gag order, so no one would know about these (cases of) discrimination."
The study found that 56 of the 62 participating nurses felt "put down, insulted or degraded because of race, colour or ethnicity" by other nurses, managers or doctors.
The study recommends:
- The Ontario Human Rights Commission initiate an investigation of systemic discrimination against minority nurses.
- The Ontario health ministry integrate anti-racism, anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and employment equity assurance in the hospital accreditation process.
- The Health Council of Canada monitor the racial disparities in the health-care sector and track the amount of health-care dollars spent by institutions on defending discriminatory practices.