B.C. hospital worker wearing orange shirt for residential school tribute told to change

A contractor has changed its policy after drawing criticism for telling a Surrey, B.C., hospital worker to change out of the outfit she'd worn in tribute to the children found buried at the Kamloops Residential School.

Felicia McCarthy says she wore the orange shirt to honour the 215 children, as well as her own father, who is a residential school survivor.

But the housekeeper at Surrey Memorial Hospital said when she showed up on Monday wearing her orange shirt, which reads "Every Child Matters" on the front, a supervisor with her employer, Aramark, told her she couldn’t wear it at work.

"She pulled me aside and said, 'You have to change,'" she said. "I explained to her what the shirt was, and she said, 'It's inappropriate, you’ve got to change.'"

McCarthy said the supervisor never offered her more of an explanation. She ended up leaving work, and posted a video online sharing her experience.

"It felt like it was a punch to the stomach," she said.

McCarthy said she has since received an apology from her employer, though not directly from the supervisor.

In an emailed statement, Chris Collom with Aramark’s corporate communications team said, "For health and safety reasons, our intention was to stay true to our uniform policy and not intended to be disrespectful in any way.

"We understand and sympathize with the pain the community is experiencing and recognize this could have been handled in a more supportive way."

McCarthy said she wears full personal protective equipment when she's working, which covers whatever she is wearing underneath.

"When I go in to clean those (COVID-19 patients') rooms, I am covered from head to toe. I wear a bonnet, I wear a gown. I wear gloves and I wear booties," she said. "Everything is protected. So my shirt has nothing to do with being protected in those PPE situations."

Collom said Aramark has now revised its policy to allow employees to wear "orange shirts over their uniforms and can display the support buttons provided by the hospital."

Hospital Employees Union secretary business manager Mike Old said it’s "really regrettable" that this happened to one of the union's members, and added it has spoken to Aramark.

"We’ve told them that they really need to engage in some cultural safety training of their managers and supervisors to make sure that this kind of incident doesn’t happen again," he said. "Our hospitals are supposed to be places of compassion and caring, for patients and also for the people who work in the system, and clearly this member of ours was not treated with compassion and care at a time when she probably needed it the most."

The Fraser Health Authority said it has also told Aramark their employees "can be supported to wear orange shirts as long as all appropriate infection prevention and control measures are followed."

In a statement, the health authority’s senior public affairs consultant Dixon Tam said it is also renewing discussions with all worksites and contractors "to emphasize the importance of practicing and understanding reconciliation." He added other hospital staff and workers are also able to wear orange "to honour those who were lost."

McCarthy said she has meetings with Aramark and her union next week. What she’s really hoping is that people will take it upon themselves to learn and understand.

"People still go through the effects of what happened with residential schools," she said. "It didn’t just happen then. It’s still continuing now."