“My mother is 92 years old; she is blind and coping with decreased autonomy. She is spoken to in English almost every day, both by nurses (who help her take her medication, and remove her hearing aid) and by support staff (who dress her and bathe her) – all in a very Francophone community. How can we speak of quality service when it is not available in the person’s language, especially when that person is elderly?”
Children and youth are not the only age group that has the Office’s attention. The elderly also form a group that merits special attention when it comes to French-language services. Like their Anglophone counterparts, Francophone seniors are entitled to have programs in their language that will help them live healthy, active lives and, if their condition so requires, receive care and support services in respect and dignity.
As is the case for children and youth, the government offers many services to provide the province’s seniors with the best possible quality of life. And as is the case for children and youth, the larger the number of programs, the greater is the risk of shortcomings in French-language services. For an aging population, such shortcomings can have dramatic effects.
It is only natural for a group whose well-being, or even survival, depends on support programs to be afraid to complain about those services. While the government does not seem to recognize the essential nature of a proactive approach, the Commissioner’s Office is slowly but surely painting a picture of the remedies needed for the difficulties experienced by seniors in accessing French-language services, based not only on formal complaints but also on informal reports, active monitoring of the sector, its contacts with the groups concerned, and good old common sense.
The following are a few situations that illustrate the need for active intervention in the area of French-language services for seniors:
• In his 2008–2009 annual report, the Commissioner noted the absence of specialized long-term health care in French in Toronto. Since then, thanks to the Central and Central East Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs), the situation appears to have been rectified in Toronto. However, it took a substantial concerted effort, including extensive media coverage and petitions, to explain its importance. Such a campaign should not be necessary in other parts of Ontario to ensure that long-term care beds are managed with the needs of Francophones in mind.
• A Francophone citizen called the government’s Long-Term Care ACTION Line several times to express grave concern about the way a relative was being treated in a seniors’ residence. Each time, there was no service in French. The difficulties that the elderly relative was experiencing were related to the very fact that he was being marginalized because he was Francophone. Hard to imagine that the complainant would find a sympathetic ear in such circumstances. This case illustrates the need not only to offer service in French but also to have staff, regardless of their language, who are sensitive to the reality of elderly Francophones in a minority setting.
• Motivated by the commendable intention to provide coordinated, efficient and effective care to seniors and persons with complex needs, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care created Community Health Links, which brings together various stakeholders, including family health care providers, specialists, hospitals and agencies that deliver long-term care, home care and other community support services. However, there are persistent doubts about how much consideration was given to the needs of Francophones in the development of this system and the system’s capacity to cope, in French, with Francophone seniors and other Francophone citizens who have specific health care needs.
• In implementing its Seniors Strategy, the government has invested a considerable amount of money in enhancing the delivery of home care and personal care by community support organizations. Once again, we have to question whether the needs of Francophones were taken into consideration in advance.
In view of the expected growth in the number of seniors in the coming years, seniors support workers will have to make proactive efforts to incorporate consideration of Francophones’ needs into their services. Of course, the Commissioner intends to keep an eye on the situation, but he notes that ultimately, it is the government’s responsibility.