A single Vancouver father says he and his three Indigenous sons faced discrimination at a nonprofit dental clinic in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside neighborhood.
Despite all three boys having years of medical history at Strathcona Community Dental on Kiefer Street, Ajantha (Sam) Dharmapala said the receptionist refused to cover him with his Indigenous status card or that he Says he refused to serve him unless paid in cash.
The receptionist didn’t ask another staff member for help and told Dharmapala he couldn’t make reservations for the boys unless they agreed to pay in cash, he recalls.
In a Facebook post on August 24, Dharmapala said, “I tried to explain to her very kindly but she very rudely told me not to come back to this place if I had no money. ” he said.
“It was terrible,” he said in an interview with The Tyee on Friday.
Dharmapala says the clinic operator apologized to him. The clinic’s explanation posted an online post blaming some of the computer’s errors.
Dharmapala and his former partner, who are status First Nations and members of Manitoba’s Weiwei Shikappo First Nation, have a 12-year-old son. After she died suddenly recently, Dharmapala was asked to raise her two sons, aged 7 and her another 3 years old. All three boys have received First Nation status through their mothers.
“I have three children who have lost their mothers. I try not to put the younger two in foster care,” said Dharmapala.
“It’s not easy because you have to think about their mental health,” he said. “I didn’t want them to go through that kind of treatment.”
Status First Nations residents of British Columbia have access to many dental services free of charge through First Nations Health and the Pacific Blue Cross.
Indigenous peoples of Canada are almost twice as likely to have dental disease as non-Indigenous peoples. One reason for this is limited access to dental care and nutritious food, as well as high smoking prevalence.
Poor dental health can lead to heart disease and other serious health problems throughout an individual’s lifetime.
A 2020 report on anti-Indigenous racism in health care found that insidious racism pervasive in British Columbia’s health system is deterring Indigenous people from seeking treatment and leading to more health problems. left untreated, with more serious consequences.
The Strathcona Community Dental Clinic admits on its website that “First Nations people in status are covered up to 100% for some procedures.”
However, Dharmapala said he and his sons faced treatment from the front desk receptionist at Strathcona Community Dental that was inhumane and could completely deter anyone else from seeking dental care. I say I did.
He took three boys to the clinic on Friday, August 19th.
When I was 3 years old, my second son fell and lost about 5 milk teeth. Now seven years old, the boy’s adult molars were starting to appear and Dharmapala wanted to make sure they were growing properly. He brought in another boy for examination at the same time.
The receptionist said I could only take my middle son. When she asked how Dharmapala was paid, he explained that her son was eligible for a status card and a Pacific Blue Cross.
The receptionist ran the status card number and said it wasn’t working. She asked Dharmapala to pay in cash.
He then explained that the boys’ mother had just passed away so they didn’t have all the details of their own dental history, but they had been here for many years and their status cards had always worked. .
“She said, ‘That’s your problem,'” recalls Dharmapala. He said he could afford it, but he didn’t have to.
The family left and went to Cambie Village Dental, which Dharmapala said had no problem accepting the boys’ status cards and providing excellent care. Confirmed card was valid and awarded dental insurance.
On Wednesday, Dharmapala said another staff member at the clinic reached out to apologize, but did not say to the receptionist what accountability or action would be taken.
In response to a one-star Google review of clinic Dharmapala posted on August 26, the clinic said it takes these complaints seriously.
“We are always open to Native Health and are up to date with policy changes. We are,” read the reply posted late Thursday night.
“The people running the place need to fix it,” said Dharmapala. “They need to make sure they know and are considerate of their workers.
The Strathcona Community Dental Clinic is a non-profit organization that provides low-cost dental care to low-income and marginalized people, many of whom are indigenous.
In an emailed statement to The Tyee, the clinic’s executive director, Erin Riddell, declined to comment further on the specific allegations and the actions taken against the staff in question, citing privacy concerns. I refused.
She said indigenous health insurance is not common on the issue of verifying status, and clinic staff participate in cultural sensitivity training through the BC Dental Association.
Riddell said that when confusion arises over coverage, standard practice is to ask patients to either contact the Ministry of Health to confirm coverage or pay out of their own pocket and claim the costs. . She did not answer questions about why cash payments were required.
“Unfortunately, as we have no means of recovering these funds, we cannot risk providing free services,” she wrote. We rely on donations to run our clinic and keep it open.”
Dharmapala said no assistance with the claim was provided. The only solution offered by the receptionist was to request that we pay for the service in cash.
Dharmapala has experience speaking up for others as an advocate for housing and anti-poverty on the Downtown East Side and has helped navigate the situation at the clinic.
But he says it is heartbreaking for his grieving sons and for vulnerable Indigenous peoples who may face similar behavior.
“The history of Canada’s treatment of indigenous peoples is dark. It’s still in society,” Dharmapala said. “How do these little kids, especially indigenous children, have to face this? They get very angry and can’t handle this very well. It’s sad.”
“And I really want to give them a good future.”