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The Ottawa Hospital now offers patients darker skin-coloured bandages – news today

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Ellen Odai Alie, the hospital’s director of medical imaging, spearheaded a campaign to offer patients bandages that better match their skin tones.

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For The Ottawa Hospital’s Ellen Odai Alie, health equity is in the detail of patient care.

It’s one of the reasons she spearheaded a campaign to offer patients bandages that better match their skin tones. The program, launched earlier this month at the hospital, now gives darker-skinned patients the opportunity to use something other than Band-Aids designed for white skin.

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“This is about people feeling like we see them, we recognize they have a different skin tone. It’s about being included,” said Alie, the hospital’s director of medical imaging. “A Band-Aid is just a really simple symbol that we’re thinking about this, we’re thinking about our patients.”

Band-Aid, a brand made by Johnson & Johnson, now produces three bandages in hues that better match Black and brown skin.

The company began manufacturing them in 2001 following the Black Lives Matter campaign that highlighted systemic racism.

Johnson & Johnson launched its flagship soft-pink Band-Aids in 1920, and they have long been a sore spot for people of colour who did not see their reality reflected in the company’s “flesh-coloured” bandages.

Alie said nurses can now offer patients a choice of bandages to match diverse skin colours.

The Ottawa Hospital is one of the first hospitals in the country to adopt the use of inclusive bandages.

Alie first raised the issue last year after a visit to her local drug store where she saw Johnson & Johnson’s new Band-Aids, called OurTone, and bought several boxes of them. Using them for the first time was a strangely powerful experience, she said.

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“I picked up two shades and didn’t know which one would work best,” said Alie. “But when I put a Band-Aid on my finger, it was weird: It actually matched my skin tone pretty closely. I’ve never experienced that in my entire life.

Band-aid
The Ottawa Hospital now has a contract in place to supply the multiracial bandages. Photo by Tony Caldwell /POSTMEDIA

“I know it sounds simple; it’s something so routine. But it was wild to me, and I thought, ‘Why, for my 40-plus years of life, has this never happened?”

She decided to raise the issue at the hospital. “We have so many patients of all different skin colours, all different backgrounds, and I thought, ‘If this is being sold at Shopper’s Drug Mart, why do we not have this as a hospital serving such a diverse community?’”

Alie brought the idea forward to the hospital’s equity, diversity and inclusion council, which embraced the initiative. It took almost a year for the hospital’s purchasing agent to gain access to the new Band-Aids, but there’s now a contract in place to supply the multiracial bandages.

Alie is mapping out a research project to understand whether the multiracial bandages affect patients’ perception of their care. That project is likely to be based in the hospital’s dermatology clinic.

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“I want to know if this does actually make a difference in the patient experience,” she said.

Alie understands that Band-Aids are a small part of health care, and that much bigger inequities must be addressed in the system. But she believes the initiative acknowledges that the system does see skin colour, and understands it’s an issue.

“If we can think about something as small as a Band-Aid – it doesn’t fix the world – but maybe there’s an element of trust it establishes: It shows we’re willing to listen and to change things so that everyone gets the same level of care,” said Alie, the founding chair of the hospital’s equity, diversity and inclusion council.

Dr. Virgina Roth, The Ottawa Hospital’s Chief of Staff, said while more work must be done to break down systemic barriers in health care, the introduction of skin tone bandages represents one step in the right direction.

“The introduction of skin tone bandages into our clinical areas, I hope, conveys to our patients that we are considering all aspects of their care, right down to the subtle details,” Roth said.

In Ottawa, according to 2021 census data, almost one-third of the city’s population is now comprised of people who identify as visible minorities, up from 26 per cent in 2016.

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