A university student who recently posted footage to social media of the treatment of a sick Aboriginal woman by staff at an inner-city Melbourne hospital has called for greater cultural awareness training in the health system.
Masters student Audrey Kearns, 24, was standing outside the emergency room of St Vincent's Hospital in the inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy when she observed Khaliyha McKellar laying unconscious on the concrete just metres from the entrance to the Emergency Care Centre.
"The state I found Khaliyha in when I came out of the hospital, being completely unresponsive, laying next to her own vomit - that is the state I was in when I was admitted to St Vincent's Hospital with diabetic ketoacidosis," Ms Kearns told NITV News on Tuesday.
"I was exactly like her, and actually one of the first thoughts that went through my mind is - is she a type one diabetic?"
When Ms Kearns attempted to bring the situation to the attention of the emergency room staff, she was told Ms McKellar had already been treated.
Ms Kearns then asked for a blanket for Ms McKellar who was laying exposed to Melbourne's cold weather, but her request was refused. It was then that Ms Kearns - accompanied by a friend - resorted to sourcing a blanket from her ward inside the hospital.
She said she then waited an hour for a staff member to come outside, and that they only did so after security noticed that she had begun filming on her phone.
In confronting footage later uploaded to Facebook, Ms Kearns and her companion were then accosted by hospital and security staff.
Despite occurring in a public place, a security guard is seen repeatedly trying to snatch the phone out of Ms Kearns hand and directing her not to continue videoing.
Another staff member is then heard threatening to have Ms Kearn's care compromised if she did not stop filming.
"Which ward are you from, because I’m not sure you’re going to be allowed back in the hospital with this kind of behaviour," the staff member tells Ms Kearns.
Following the incident, Ms Kearns returned to her ward but claimed her care was in fact significantly compromised as a result, including being denied insulin.
"After I went and filmed what happened to Khaliyha and tried to stand up for her my care changed drastically to the point where I had to discharge myself because I thought I'm either going to go into a coma without my insulin or die," she said.
Despite the CEO of the hospital contacting Ms Kearns and offering to meet in the days following her Facebook post, Ms Kearns said she did not believe it would make a difference.
She said she believes that there is a deeper issue of systemic racism, not only at St Vincent's Hospital, but in the Australian healthcare system generally.
"I want justice for Khaliyha and her family. I want the hospital to be held accountable for what they did to both of us. I want real change and there needs to be a massive overhaul in the public health system and the way Australia treats Indigenous peoples," Ms Kearns said.
"This happened right during Reconciliation Week and if hospitals think that it's okay during this time with everything else that is going on in the world in America, that they can toss an Aboriginal teenager out when she's unresponsive and at risk of choking on her own vomit then you've got a serious problem."
St Vincent's Hospital told NITV News that upon seeing the video, an internal investigation was launched.
“St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne apologises to the patients involved. We are deeply concerned at the video content and we are committed to discovering what occurred,” the statement read.
“Following this incident, we are committed to not only understanding the background of what occurred, but how we can improve our care so this does not happen again.”