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It took time for Dr. Alisha Liggett of New York City to truly realize the impact of the institutional racism surrounding the birth of her first child.
When she returned to her clinical practice in The Bronx she found out many of her patients had similar "traumatic experiences" with the way they were treated as Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).
"[They] would explain poor treatment, mistrust, feeling as though they were devalued or dehumanized in their body as they interacted with healthcare," she says. "This issue of implicit bias, systemic racism and poor treatment is something that's widespread."
Dr. Liggett, along with Toronto-based Global Health Practitioner Antu Hossain, on Wednesday talked about these issues in a virtual panel discussion on dismantling institutional racism. The event was hosted by UHN, in partnership with Urban Alliance on Race Relations.
The hour-long session, titled "Racism, anti-racism and racial equity: perspectives on health education, patient empowerment, innovation and accountability," included personal experiences, insights and expertise from both women.
Antu discussed the needs for better collaboration, engagement and partnerships with communities.
"We see huge disparities between who gets to be funded to do the work of health programming on the ground," she said. "We need to look to the community as to where their needs are most.
"Even here in Canada we need to constantly be advocating for who is at the table when we decide … what research studies and questions are funded – is it the same communities who are affected by that research?"
Jacqueline Silvera, Diversity and Mediation Services at UHN, says the event "continues the conversation" from the
February 2021 release of UHN's Anti-Racism and Anti-Black Racism Policy, which commits to understanding and addressing the histories and impact of systemic racism and discrimination that result in unequal access for BIPOC.
"This conversation, is to create affirming space for those that have been injured – and we all are injured in acts of Anti-Asian racism, Anti-Black racism, Anti-Indigenous racism, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia," says Jacqueline.
"We are calling attention to what our community at UHN – must to do differently."
'We have made mistakes in the past. We will make mistakes even now.'
Dr. Andrew Boozary, Executive Director of Social Medicine and Population Health at UHN, who provided opening remarks for the event, thanked Jacqueline, UHN's Anti-Black Racism and Anti-Racism Committee as well as Urban Alliance for hosting conversations like this.
"We have lost far too many lives, we have seen far too many challenges and barriers that we have imposed on people inside our system and outside our system," Dr. Boozary said. "We will not see the delivery of social medicine or of improvements in the social determinants of health if we are not an anti-racist organization.
"Hopefully we can see this move and take shape across our healthcare system at large."
Sheila O'Brien, Executive Vice President, People, Culture and Community at UHN, acknowledged in her closing remarks that anti-racism work is just as essential as healthcare.
"We are by no means a perfect organization. We have made mistakes in the past. We will make mistakes even now," says Sheila. "What we won't do is ignore the harm caused by indifference, ignorance, and in some sad cases, outright acts of aggression."
"Our commitment is to cultivate a safe, inclusive environment for our staff and our patients."
Click the video below to watch the full event and stay tuned for more opportunities to engage in these discussions as we keep this important conversation going at UHN.
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