Agape measuring English seniors’ access to health and social services

Findings will help group identify issues for future action

Agape measuring English seniors’ access to health and social services
Senior citizens from Laval took part in a consultation sponsored by Agape on March 1 on the availability of health and social services in Laval in English.
Martin C. Barry

Senior citizens from Chomedey and other areas of Laval were invited on March 1st to take part in a public consultation, hosted by Agape at the Centre Saint-Joseph community centre in Chomedey, on the state of access to health and social services in Laval in English.

The main purpose of the consultation, according to Agape, was to learn about the experiences of the English-speaking community in the Laval region in terms of their ability to obtain health and social services in their own language.

Future action plans

Knowledge garnered from the consultation, which was led by research consultant Joanne Pocock who has previously worked on statistic-gathering projects with Agape, will be used to identify issues and inform Agape’s future action plans. Pocock told the Laval News she expected to complete her report by the end of March.

Although the participants’ comments were recorded and noted, they will remain anonymous and no names will be associated to them. Agape wanted to hear many different viewpoints and individual stories by English-speaking seniors from the region. Agape may follow up some of the comments in the future with a phone call or e-mail to some of the participants.

Access in English

“We know that across Quebec, no doubt, all the citizens of Quebec are experiencing difficulties – good things as well – in their access to health and social services,” said Pocock. “But I would ask you to think about what is particular about the experience of the English-speaking senior – English being the language that you’re most comfortable in, in your communication. And certainly we all know, when we’re ill, we like to revert to our language that we’re most comfortable in.”

A sampling of some of the comments. “When my doctor retired, the CLSC gave me a doctor who’s French,” said one woman. “He does speak English, but it’s limited and I won’t say he’s competent. But the problem I have is that when he sends me for a test and the results come back in French, he can’t translate them into English.”

Not available in English

Agape measuring English seniors’ access to health and social services
Those who took part in the consultation had anecdotes relating their experiences accessing health and social services in Laval in English.

The woman recounted how she had an x-ray and the doctor in question was unable to express the result in English to her. She said she had also recently had an MRI scan and the medical professional in that case also could not explain to her the result in English. Another woman related her problem involving doctors and staff at medical clinics in Laval who leave messages on her phone answering machine about test results in rapidly-spoken French.

“When I go to the CLSC, the receptionist will not speak English,” said a man who took part in the consultation. “It’s all in French for blood tests.” However, he shared the address and phone number of a medical clinic in Sainte-Dorothée where he said the staff will serve patients in English.

Positive/negative feedback

Although it was noted during the presentation that the central number for Quebec’s RAMQ health insurance system answers inquiries only in French (Agape executive-director Kevin McLeod called the number and played the audio over his cell phone for all to hear), some of those attending the consultation had positive things to say about other health care organizations.

“I think the 8-1-1 that you call is marvellous – I can’t say enough good about them,” said one woman, praising the province’s phone call-in system which provides immediate assistance for non-urgent health problems. “They speak in English. They give you more information than any doctor would. And they tell you whether or not it’s serious, if you should see a doctor or what you should do. They are so comforting.”

Praise for Cité de la Santé

And while Laval’s Cité de la Santé was the target for some derisive comments about poor service in English, one woman said, “I have nothing but praise for Cité de la Santé in English. My husband does not speak French and he had to be hospitalized – emergency, intensive care – and he’s been followed for the past two years. And all the specialists speak perfect English.”

When Pocock requested a show of hands to determine the number of people in the room who seek medical help outside Laval in order to be served in English, a majority responded. Two participants praised the Seniors’ Wellness Centre operated by Agape for being the leading resource of health and wellness information in Laval for English-speaking senior citizens.