Two Interior Health employees withdraw from Aboriginal health positions over criticism

The employees were not Indigenous and the positions weren't made publicly available

Two Interior Health employees hired for Aboriginal health positions have withdrawn following complaints that Indigenous candidates were not considered for the roles.

On June 29, the health authority announced the appointments of James Coyle as its corporate director of Aboriginal health and wellness, and Jesse Bhondi as corporate director of Aboriginal cultural safety and humility.

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But in an internal memo dated July 8, obtained by Black Press, Interior Health president and CEO Susan Brown said Coyle and Bhondi decided not to take on the positions after hearing feedback suggesting the hiring process was discriminatory, lacking preference for Indigenous candidates. The memo can be read here.

“The comments implied that to be qualified for a role in this portfolio, the leaders must themselves be Aboriginal,” Brown wrote. “This is not true, as across our organization we encourage and value the participation of all people, working side-by-side, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.”

Brown’s comments come following 24 recommendations made to the provincial Ministry of Health in a November 2020 report responding to allegations of racism against Indigenous patients.

The report’s author, Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, advised “that the B.C. government, (Provincial Health Services Authority), the five regional health authorities, B.C. colleges and universities with health programs, health regulators and all health service organizations, providers and facilities, recruit Indigenous individuals to senior positions to oversee and promote needed system change.”

Mal Griffin, Interior Heakth’s vice-president of human resources, said the positions were filled internally to prepare for the arrival of new vice-president of Aboriginal partnerships Addie Pryce.

Pryce, who is from the Nisga’a Nation of Ginglox, previously worked as director of the health sector for the Assembly of First Nations, and held various health roles in B.C. and Ontario.

Griffin said Pryce was consulted prior to the hiring of Coyle and Bhondi, but was not responsible for the appointments because she doesn’t begin her position until Aug. 3.

“We selected two individuals from within Interior Health who are proven leaders with what we believe [are] the right skills and competencies to do the work that needs to be done with the new VP and other members of the Aboriginal health team,” Griffin said.

Six per cent of Interior Health’s employees identify as Indigenous, said Griffin, who added the health authority wants to reach 10 per cent representation by 2025.

“Our commitment is not just in the clinical roles and not at the front-line staff. We want to hire wherever we can,” he said.

Griffin said the positions briefly held by Coyle and Bhondi have now been re-posted, this time to internal and external candidates.

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