Hospitals readying for English influx

Regionalization to force residents to get treated in Laval

By Robert Frank

To serve Laval residents who hitherto have gone to Montreal for English service, local health officials have to grapple with the unenviable task of reconciling Quebec’s restrictive language laws with its health care act which—on paper at least—is much more generous toward the province’s English-speaking minority.

Laval’s health care authority is working diligently to improve local institutions’ capacity to deliver health care service in English. As reported in The Suburban last week, on April 1 the Parti Québécois government plans to implement the first phase of its long-term policy that will increasingly limit Laval residents to hospitals and clinics on Île Jésus.

“The law is framed so to require all health care establishments to offer service in English,” Nicole Beaudry told The Suburban in an interview.

Delivering that service where and when it’s required is one of Beaudry’s responsibilities as deputy regional director of Laval’s health care authority — known in French as the Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Laval (ASSS).

“Currently, the Jewish Rehabilitation Hospital is the only hospital in Laval that is designated as bilingual,” she observed. “Other establishments like [the Cité de la santé superhospital] and the centre for the intellectually handicapped are not designated bilingual. Therefore they don’t offer all their services in the English language, but have indicated that we need to put in place a program to ensure English-language access.”

“Our front-line services are more-or-less available in both languages,” Beaudry underscored. “Specialized services are not necessarily delivered uniformly across-the-board. Depending where you live in Laval, even members of the French-speaking population sometimes must cross the bridge into Montreal to get the services that they need.”

Bloke like me

Unlike the skein of red tape needed to prove eligibility for access to Quebec’s English schools, the province’s Health Ministry employs the same demographic technique that the United States government uses to define who is African-American: self-identification.

It’s simple. You’re entitled to English health-care if you say that you’re more comfortable expressing yourself in English and receiving services in English.

According to Laval ASSS CEO Claude Desjardins, the health care authority is working actively to reconcile those language rights with “the right of the network’s service providers to work and conduct their activities in French.” 

The ASSS calculates that English-speakers comprise 18.8 percent of Laval’s population. It derived that figure from 2006 census data, which doesn’t account for the huge surge in Laval’s non-francophone population, which—according to the 2011 census—grew by a third during the ensuing five years.

“Forty percent of those English-speakers were immigrants [in 2006],” Beaudry acknowledged.

Whatever the numbers, ASSS Laval has already taken some steps to begin to help the most vulnerable: Laval’s rapidly aging English-speaking population. Last year, it allocated funds that let the Laval Alzheimer’s Society start offering courses in English for loved-ones, as well as to translate its website into English.

“We also initiated a great project together with the Laval centre for the intellectually handicapped,” Beaudry added. “They’re partnering with the Sir Wilfred Laurier School Board to offer in-school services for English-speaking intellectually handicapped youth. Beforehand, those services were only offered in Montreal.”

“We are also working with the Laval youth centre to improve services,” she continued. “A nice breakthrough in services for youth coming out of residences that has really worked.”

Dialing for dollars

Budget is the bottom line, though, if more English service is to be made available to the hordes of Laval residents who will soon be barred from seeking treatment at Montreal hospitals. Even with the best of intentions, ASSS Laval needs the money to finance its existing and pending programs for English-speakers, since former federal funds dried up in 2013.

“We received [financial] support from the Quebec-Canada agreement, a three-year program which ended last year,” Beaudry explained. “We have many other projects that we would like to put on the table. It will take development, but if the budgets are renewed, Laval’s health and social service establishment would like to develop other projects.”

She reiterated that in the meantime, ASSS Laval continues to strive to improve English service.

“If you look at the job notices, you will see that institutions increasingly are negotiating to hire into anglophone positions,” she concluded. “They are witnessing the demographics evolve, and are adapting their services accordingly.”
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