‘Please don’t ask for tranquillizers’: Doctor’s note to First Nations patients has chief calling for apology

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A Miramichi, N.B., doctor was asked to apologize Thursday for displaying a note in his office asking “native patients” not to request tranquillizers or pain medications.

The note, hand-printed in capital letters, was affixed to the reception desk at Dr. Allister Carter’s office.

“Attn: Native patients please don’t ask for tranquillizers or pain medications,” the note said.

Chief George Ginnish of the Natoaganeg First Nation said he wants an apology.

“It’s quite disturbing in this day and age to see that type of a racial characterization,” he said.

Maxine Ginnish, a social worker at the Rising Sun Healing Centre in Natoaganeg, said she was shocked when she saw the note.

She had heard about it from a friend and decided to visit the doctor’s office Thursday morning to see for herself.

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“I was very heartbroken,” she said. “That’s the first time I have seen written proof of such racism.

“I know my people struggle and it was very disheartening to see that from a medical professional.”

​Ginnish said she took a picture of the note and left the office without speaking to anyone.

The photo was posted to Facebook. It was shared more than 200 times and prompted emotional responses.

Ginnish said she informed the leaders in her community.

Carter would not comment to CBC News.​

Ginnish has also called for cultural sensitivity training.

Not confined to First Nations

“It’s the wrong type of a thing for a health-care professional to say,” he said.

Many First Nations people have problems with drugs, but addiction is not confined to one race or region, he said.

Ginnish said he and other band council members learned of the note while in a meeting with Indigenous Affairs officials. He asked the band’s liaison with Health Canada to look into it.

“I was advised a little while later they had talked to the doctor’s office, and they had removed the note, but not before this was all over social media and provoking, of course, all types of angry responses in most cases.”

Formal complaint

Ginnish said the response won’t stop there. The band council says it will file a formal complaint with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick.

“‘Do no harm’ is a physician’s motto,” the chief said. “And if you are characterizing a race that are seeking appointments just to abuse prescription drugs, you question the overall integrity and intelligence of that individual.”

Dr. Ed Schollenberg, registrar with the college, said calls came into his office about the note, so he called Carter’s office.

‘It’s a massive challenge to so many people and to see someone that’s supposed to be trained to dispense medication as required displaying that type of ignorance.’ – George Ginnish, Natoaganeg First Nation chief

​When asked if formal complaints to his office would be investigated, Schollenberg said the note was removed from Carter’s reception desk and the matter was dealt with.

No further action was needed, he said.

The registrar also said the note had been posted for a while, and was only now getting reaction. Although the note could have been handled in a different way, the doctor believed he was following a directive from Indigenous Affairs, Schollenberg said.

A department spokesperson discounted the possibility of such a directive.

Code of ethics

In an emailed statement, the New Brunswick Medical Society said it couldn’t condone the content of the note, adding that physicians are to abide by a code of ethics.

“One of the fundamental responsibilities under this code of ethics is to practise the profession of medicine in a manner that treats the patient with dignity and as a person worthy of respect. Respect for persons is a fundamental principle of medical ethics. It excludes not only exploitation and discrimination, but also discourteous and insensitive behaviour.”

The medical society added it’s the responsibility of the college to receive and investigate complaints related to the behaviour of physicians.

“It is the College that is responsible for disciplinary actions in the profession.”

Ginnish said his community has a good relationship with Horizon Health in many areas, including mental health and the addiction challenges the entire region faces.

“It’s a massive challenge to so many people, and to see someone that’s supposed to be trained to dispense medication as required displaying that type of ignorance — it’s very upsetting, very troubling,” he said.

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‘Please don’t ask for tranquillizers’: Doctor’s note to First Nations patients has chief calling for apology

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