Francophone woman says health system lacks services in French


Suzanne Houde is fed up with the lack of services in French in the territorial health system.

The soon to be 60-year-old has been in Yellowknife for 22 years with her husband and during that time Houde says she has only seen French-language services from the Department of Health and Social Services deteriorate.

Suzanne Houde, a 22-year-old unilingual Francophone living in Yellowknife, said she is afraid to go to the emergency room at the Stanton Territorial Hospital because she does not have the guarantee of services in French.
Simon Whitehouse / NNSL photo

Houde, unilingual francophone, abandoned by the Yellowknifer office on December 12 with her translator to point out that she has lodged at least 10 formal complaints with the Languages ​​Commissioner this year. Explaining her medical issues or communicating with receptionists or making appointments is very difficult in Yellowknife compared to many other Canadian cities where she has lived, she says.

Its main and continuing complaint is that frontline workers, including receptionists and nurses at Stanton Territorial Hospital as well as receptionists at city health clinics, have poor French language skills.

“The whole situation with the health service is compromising (my) health, including my blood pressure,” she said through her interpreter, noting that she was worried about going to the emergency room. “The stress of not being understood by health professionals has had an impact on (my) health since I came here in 1997.

Houde provided copies of numerous letters of complaint to the Commissioner of Official Languages, including those from 2019 asking for better service in French. Some are dated December 11, 2019.

A number of complaint letters she has provided regarding poor service in French date back to 2016 and beyond, and are addressed to both the NWT Health and Social Services Authority and the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority.

She said she encountered this problem when she sought help with her physiotherapy, orthopedic care, migraines and nausea along with many other illnesses over the years.

Being a unilingual Francophone is difficult when it comes to coordinating interpreters around her doctor’s appointments. In the past, she has experienced absences from the interpreters, which has led to the cancellation of important appointments, she added.

Because she can be misunderstood, she doesn’t feel safe when using the hospital emergency room, and at other times she feels neglected and sometimes the object of mockery.

“It’s like I don’t exist for them,” she said through her translator. “Even if there is a sticker (at the hospital or at the clinic) that shows that services are provided in French, you do not receive any.

She added that her personal health record indicates that French is her preferred mother tongue, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

“I have a lot of meetings at the hospital, and every time I have to have an interpreter,” she said.

Often this person is her husband who is bilingual, but he travels a lot and is often out of town. “So I have to go above and beyond to have someone translate for me, whether it’s a staff member or someone nearby to help with the translation. “

She says she has had meetings with the Commissioner of Official Languages ​​of the Northwest Territories and the Francophone Affairs Secretariat as well as with senior management at the Stanton Territorial Hospital, but the complaints never seem to help or lead to appropriate follow-up.

Audrey Fournier, coordinator at Réseau TNO Santé, said that it is not uncommon for unilingual French people to face language barriers in the health system. Her organization continues to work with partner organizations, including the GNWT’s Department of Health and Social Services, to improve resources that will help the Francophone community.
Simon Whitehouse / NNSL photo

Houde said she wanted to be the voice of other people who might be in a similar situation because it seems a lot of people don’t want to speak out.

“(I) know that other francophones are having difficulty but they don’t want to talk too much about it,” she said, adding that there are direct actions the government can take.

“First, I want to see receptionists who speak French. I would also like to see more French speaking interpreters outside of office hours to fill in the gaps so that I can make appointments in the evenings and on weekends.

Audrey Fournier is the coordinator of the Réseau TNO Santé, an organization in the NWT that defends the Francophone community in its navigation in the health system. She said that it is not uncommon for the Francophone community to encounter obstacles, but over time, services improve.

“This is not unusual,” she said in an email, but noted that her organization is trying to make structural changes to the healthcare system rather than engaging with patients on a basic basis. individual.

“There are still flaws in the implementation and planning that do not always allow continuity of care in French. But there is also a lot of work going on to change that. “

Fournier said francophone patients should receive health services in French because the GNWT hired a medical interpreter for the hospital this year, but the government needs to do more to hire bilingual staff. French patients should also be assigned as much as possible to French-speaking health professionals, she added.

The health authority reacts

Lisa Giovanetto, communications officer at the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, said in an email that the department provides several services that cater for both unilingual Francophones and bilingual speakers.

She said staff are trained to provide “active reception” which is defined as “a way of welcoming the public who inform them that they are invited to communicate with the GNWT in English or in French when they seek information or a service, ”she said.

Giovanetto explained that it could be “a sign, a personal greeting or a recorded message”.

“If the client indicates that his preferred language is French, the employee will provide the services either directly, or by reference to a bilingual colleague, or through interpretation,” she added.

Giovanetto also said that staff also have access to the hospital’s full-time services. French medical interpreter in Stanton. That person “can attend appointments with clients / patients and provide interpretation services in person or over the phone upon request, ”she wrote.

French Language Services Coordinators who are located in each region of the NWT – in Stanton, Yellowknife, Fort Smith and Inuvik, are also available. Giovanetto said their roles are “to provide information, system navigation services and to facilitate discussions / appointment scheduling at one of our service points”.

Giovanetto stated that in Yellowknife there are French speaking clinic assistants at the Frame Lake Community Clinic and the Yellowknife Primary Care Center. A live translation technology program called CanTalk is also available.

As for specific appointments. Giovanetto said the patient is able to bring whomever they want to help with the translation, but the health authority has a medical interpreter who can also offer interviews in person or by phone at the patient’s request.

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