After more than two years of fundraising and maneuvering around construction, the expanded emergency department officially opened at West Coast General Hospital on Friday, Nov. 10.
The timing of the event was curious, coming eight days after the Charleson family from Hesquiaht First Nation delivered a letter of complaint to Island Health officials in the same spot. Dozens of family members and supporters gathered at the same WCGH entrance on Nov. 2, taking hospital and Island Health administration to task for what the family said was racist treatment of one of their elders before his passing at the end of 2022.
On Friday, chairs, a podium and speaker were set up outdoors and under cover at the main entrance to the hospital. A private gathering was held inside the hospital prior to the public grand opening of the ER.
Employees who worked in the emergency department throughout construction were noticeably absent from the event, although the clinical coordinator was present.
Throughout the 45-minute long ceremony, staff members wheeled patients in hospital gowns around the podium to access an exterior ramp to the MRI machine. Other out-patients and visitors were made to go around people listening to the speakers.
While the event began as a subdued celebration of the ER expansion, it soon became something else: more like an extension of the apology to the Charleson family, a public admonition from Indigenous people of influence and a promise to do better at lessening institutional racism.
As speaker after speaker talked about Island Health’s commitment to do better, to serve First Nations and other patients better and with respect, watching staff and patients forced to walk around the podium seemed a bit tone deaf.
— Alberni Valley News