EDMONTON — Alberta Health Services says a mistake on a form a decade ago using outdated language is to blame after a teenage Indigenous girl was sent an invoice addressed to "Treaty Indian."
The health service said Thursday it has finished a preliminary investigation into how "unacceptable and culturally insensitive language" was used.
"This was an inexcusable error, and should never have happened," it said in a statement.
The service said the error occurred when "historical wording" was put in the wrong field on a patient's record during a hospital visit over a decade ago.
"Following a more recent hospital visit, our computer system inadvertently copied that incorrect wording, and included it on an invoice which was then sent out to the person," the statement said.
"The wording is absolutely not language that we would purposefully use. It is inappropriate, insensitive and should not be used in any circumstance."
The health service said this was a "one-off incident" and doesn't reflect the language used by staff. The organization apologized publicly and said it has reached out to the 15-year-old girl and her mother to apologize personally.
The case will continue to be reviewed and the invoice to the patient has been waived, it added.
The letter came to light when a picture of the address line was posted on Twitter Wednesday by Indigenous artist Dawn Marie Marchand.
She said the letter was addressed to the daughter of a friend who gave her permission to share it on social media.
"(It's) hard to understand how it is even possible," she wrote. "It basically means someone could not even be bothered to find out the name."
Following the apology, Marchand said the girl's mother did not wish to comment on the mistake.
"To her, this is just another example of how we are dehumanized in institutional situations," Marchand wrote on Twitter.
"Although she wanted to show her disappointment, she does not want to make any statements in the media about this publicly. She is already dealing with enough."
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said the letter was completely unacceptable.
"If I was a mother receiving a letter like that for my child I would be incredibly insulted and offended that they didn't even put the name on the letter," she said.
The health service said all employees are expected to treat everyone with respect and it will make sure something similar never happens again.
"We know that a significant barrier to First Nations people accessing the health-care system is trust, and acknowledge that institutional racism and stereotyping has kept people from getting the care they need," the health service said.
"We also know that the relationships between AHS and our First Nations people must continue to improve, and we are committed to building, nurturing and growing those relationships."
The CEO of Alberta Health Services apologized last summer when a health services official who had conducted a seminar for educators at a southern Alberta First Nation sent a text complaining that she had been yelled at by "a rabid squaw."
The worker who sent the text message and another who was intended to receive it were fired.
With files from Dean Bennett
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