Quebec English community concerns over health reform

Quebec English community concerns over health reform

Main pic – Richard Walling and Taylor Ireland go over the proposed Bill 10 draft document.

Quebec City (Quebec) 07 October 2014 – Right now in the Quebec region there’s tension in the air and a palpable amount of concern for the vitality of an important mainstay of the English community.

I recently met with Richard Walling, Executive Director of Jeffery Hale Community Partners and Taylor Ireland, the President of the Voice of English-speaking Québec (VEQ) – both organisations part of the fabric of the region and have been for years.

There’s concern from the region’s English-speaking community as Dr Gaétan Barrette, the Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services, has tabled a bill that will see the abolition of a number of boards across Quebec’s healthcare landscape.

VEQ_Logo_smallUnder the auspices of helping to balance the books, it looks like control of Jeffery Hale and St Brigid’s Home, not to mention a host of other services offered to the region’s English-speaking community, could be wrested away from a Board of Directors made up of professionals and volunteers drawn from the very community it serves.

This is something that would be catastrophic as Richard Walling explains ”Jeffery Hale – Saint Brigid’s offers healthcare services to the wider English-speaking community here in the Quebec region and has done so, in one form or another, for nigh on 150 years.
What we could see happen, by as early as April 1st, 2015, is the slow erosion of those services. This is not something I can sit back and let happen.”

Walling goes into some detail about the history of Jeffery Hale Hopsital and St-Brigid’s Home and the healthcare services they offer. The services offered start at the pre-natal level and continue on through every stage of life, including the provision of long-term care for those in need in their twilight years.

JHSB_LogoSt Brigid’s Home, on chemin St-Louis in the Sillery area of Quebec City, has been in existence for over 150 years. It forms the very centre of the region’s English-speaking community. Jeffery Hale Hopsital will be celebrating 150 years of service to the community in 2015. Both institutions were built by the English community and remain at the heart and soul if it.

They provide or oversee a ‘cradle to grave’ approach to healthcare and at some point, become part of community members’ lives.

Says Richard ‘Many people benefit from the emergency department of the Jeffery Hale Hospital, and you might not realise it, but school nurses and social workers in the English school system are provided by Jeffery Hale – Saint Brigid’s.

The English-speaking community here is diverse, vibrant, and plays an active part in the make up of the region.
It also changes by up to 25% every 5 years or so.
New people are coming here all the time, and are comforted by the knowledge that they are able to get healthcare services in English if they need to.

Jeffery Hale – Saint Brigid’s also offers most of its services in French, too, but its main reason for existing is to provide quality services adapted to the cultural and linguistic reality of anglophones.

The institution offers for example Day Centre services for vulnerable seniors and most of those attending are English mother tongue. There’s a definite need for what is provided.”

With most anglos here in possession of at least reasonable French, is there really a need for such a service to still be in existence in English?

Apparently so, when it’s a little more serious than popping to get some stitches put in if you cut your hand, there’s potentially major psycho-social issues at stake. The quality of care you receive is directly proportional to how much of the nuances of the language you understand.

If you’re comfortable and understand what you’re being told to do, it means you’re in receipt of better care.

Jeffery Hale Community Partners are of the firm belief that language shouldn’t be a barrier where healthcare is concerned.

I asked Mr Walling if he felt his organizations’ core population, the unilingual anglo demographic, was dying out?

He becomes more animated ”Absolutely not. It’s actually increased since 2006. There was a substantial decline in the 1970’s due to various language bills being passed. Anglos were perhaps not comfortable here then, but that has changed for the better.

We have more seniors to serve today than we had 10 years ago.
As life expectancy increases, so does the amount of people we need to care for.
The unilingual anglophone community is much higher in number today than it was say 25 years ago.
Is the need still there – I’d say most definitely.”

He continues ”Our services have expanded over the last quarter century. We now have social workers and nurses in our schools for example.
We have adapted to what our community have asked of us. But we’ve only been able to do this as we’re part of the community we serve.”

Importantly, a good number of the Jeffery Hale – Saint Brigid’s Board of Directors are drawn from the English-speaking community. Many of the Board for example have had family members in St-Brigid’s at one time or another.

They know what’s needed through both their professional experience and, equally as relevant, on a personal level they genuinely care.

There’s real concern as to what may happen over the coming months, according to Richard Walling and current VEQ President Taylor Ireland, the region’s English healthcare institutions are as relevant today as they have ever been.

Says Taylor ”Jeffery Hale – Saint Brigid’s has been under the direct management and control of those who really know and understand the English-speaking community. They’re part of it, and interact with it many times on a daily basis.”

From an administrative standpoint there are 18 board members, 10 directly linked to the community and the others who are appointed from within the organization.

LiQ_Mag_Abonnez-vousAll board members are in touch with the community and are intimately involved with it.

If Bill 10 is passed, and it’s slated to have been done so by Christmas 2014, then all of that knowledge and experience will be gone. Upper management and board gone, leadership role and links to the community it serves, yes you guessed it. GONE.

It’s a frightening thought for those currently operating in the environment or in receipt of those services.

Mr Ireland continues ”We’re not concerned with the need for reform – we know there’s a need. We know there’s gaps in the system that need to be addressed, but at the same time, the provincial government, with its present plan, hasn’t understood the impact that just applying a ‘one size fits all’ method would have on the vitality of the community.”

If the bill does go through then the Board of Jeffery Hale – Saint Brigid’s will be told, in early January 2015, that their mandates will end at the end of March that year. It’s that quick.

With a 15-member board to be appointed by the Health Minister from April 1st, to administer a mega-institution for all the Quebec City region, that’s when we will see the slow erosion of services begin.

Richard Walling explains further ”This new mega-institution will be managed by a group of 15. We may get 1 spot on that board if we’re lucky. Very lucky. Statistically, the English-speaking community will make up roughly 1.6% of the new establishment. Statistically, we’ll not get on that board.”

150 years of community involvement at a decision-making level gone. Wiped out. Ouch.

Another question I ask is this ‘Every time the new board meets, will they be thinking about what they can do to better serve the English-speaking community?”

Walling ”Probably not. That board will be so occupied with running the mega-institution that’s being created. We’re not going to be part of the decisions, and our community will be removed from the very important function of being understood.

This is a sad state of affairs for me, Jeffery Hale – Saint Brigid’s should be touted as a model for how minority and majority communities can work together.”

So what now? Where do we go from here?

Taylor Ireland continues ”We’re are facing collateral damage here. We need to be able to continue in our vital role. Jeffery Hale – St Brigid’s is an icon, a visible presence. We have to let our politicians know this and how important our services are to us. This really will affect the vitality of this region’s English-speaking community.

We feel that our services will be cut, or certainly limited, if we lose control of what we can offer. We need to remain connected to the community. It can’t be stripped away from us.”

I ask about Hôpital Montfort in Ottawa and how their situation compares to ours here?

Mr Walling ”Jeffery Hale – Saint Brigid’s and what we can offer here to English-speakers is as important to us as what Hôpital Montfort offers to the French-speaking population it serves in the Ottawa region. Both situations and what may happen to us are similar.”

Mr Ireland adds ”This decision will impact any English-speaker wishing to move to the region. Take away the school board, and Jeffery Hale – Saint Brigid’s is one of the largest employers of anglophones in the region. They’re a major employer of anglophones from outside of the region and bilingual people already here.

The presence of a very visible healthcare institution in English is very important if we’re looking to continue to attract people here from outside of the region.

We should be seen as part of the solution not part of the problem. We feel like we’re being treated as part of the problem as the government hasn’t understood what we’re about.

It’s important for the vitality of our community for Jeffery Hale – Saint Brigid’s to remain a part of our community in its  current form.”

So there you have it readers, two well-placed members of the region’s English-speaking community have spoken.

The message here seems to be that if you are a member of the Quebec City region’s English-speaking community and care for it, then it’s time to make your voice heard!

Speak to your member of parliament, and your member of the national assembly – go make some noise.

À vos crayons et claviers!

Categories: General, Opinion

About Author

Andrew Greenfield

Andrew Greenfield moved to Quebec in 2009. He is part of the team responsible for the publishing company behind LifeinQuebec.com and Life in Québec Magazine. He has been involved with online and print media since 2001. He is passionate about cricket, is a qualified coach, and his real ambition is to start a cricket team in Quebec City – something he freely admits is probably beyond him. Follow him on Twitter @GreenfieldAndy

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