French-Language Health Services in the Time of COVID-19:
A Story of Perseverance, Adaptation and Resilience
2020-2021 Annual Report
A Word from the Chair of the Board of Directors
I would like to open the 2020-2021 Annual Report by offering my sincerest condolences to all those who have lost a loved one over the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to the most important health crisis in over a century and many of us have had to mourn such a loss under exceedingly difficult circumstances.
COVID-19 has also laid bare the holes in our health care system, especially in the long-term care sector. Unfortunately, it must be acknowledged that the Francophone community was affected to a greater extent because of its status as a minority official-language community; the inability to access relevant information in French in real time, or the development of virtual health services available only in English are only a few examples. Similarly, some Francophones living in long-term care homes were particularly disadvantaged; deprived of visits by their natural caregivers, these vulnerable people found themselves completely isolated, unable to communicate in English with personal support workers.
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It is to prevent the recurrence of such totally unacceptable situations that the Réseau is continuing its work with renewed zeal.
True to our organizational aspiration of being an active partner in the transformation of the health care system1, we have continued our upstream activities with the Ministry of Health and the LHINs (Ontario Health), with the objective of minimizing negative impacts for the Francophone community. This was the spirit in which we conducted a number of follow-ups to the recommendations of the Regroupement des Entités de planification des services de santé en français de l’Ontario on the adoption of the new French Language Health Planning Entities regulation under the Connecting Care Act, 2019. In particular, we reminded the Minister of Health that in March 2020, she had undertaken to propose administrative tools to us in response to the issues raised by the Entities. As I write these lines, we have still not received a response.
On December 5, 2020, the six Entities had their mandate renewed for two years. This was both good news and bad news. On the one hand, we were delighted with the stability associated with this decision; on the other, we were disappointed to see that the mandate of the six Entities was unchanged and that the ongoing restructuring of the health care system had not resulted in a realignment of the Entities’ catchment areas with Ontario Health’s five regions. This was a missed opportunity to integrate a Francophone perspective early on in the transformation, rather than making adjustments after the fact.
This is all the more regrettable in view of the proactive work done on this issue by the Regroupement des Entités. Nevertheless, despite this setback, the Réseau continues to collaborate with the other Entities on the creation of a provincial Entity analogous to Ontario Health.
Finally, at this moment, COVID-19 vaccines are making their way to our communities and the health care system reform – put on ice during the pandemic – has resumed. Building on the lessons learned, the Réseau will continue its advisory work to cocreate a more effective and empathetic health care system for all Ontarians in all their diversity.
My most important message is addressed to all the health, social and community services professionals who have been working tirelessly for over a year. Our corporate members quickly transformed their services so that Francophones could continue to have access to the services they need in their own language. Thank you for your incredible work!
In conclusion, our achievements would not have been possible without the commitment and support of the members of the Board of Directors; I thank them most sincerely for giving me the privilege of presiding as Board Chair. I would also like to salute the extraordinary work of our President-CEO, Jacinthe Desaulniers, and her team of professionals.
Our community has demonstrated its resilience and solidarity by complying with public health measures. Thanks to our collective action, we can hope for better days.
MBA, CMC, Colonel (Honorary) FAC-CAF
- “Partner in the transformation of the healthcare system, the Réseau shapes the active offer and strategies to improve access to French-language health services. The Réseau monitors the implementation of these strategies and contributes to viable solutions to provide high-quality French-language health services.”
A Word from the President-Chief Executive Officer
It goes without saying that we all lived through an unusual 2020-2021. Like all other organizations, the Réseau had to adapt. So, for over a year our team has been working entirely remotely.
But even more significant is the way our lives have been turned upside down by this pandemic. And although all of us have been affected differently – and to varying degrees – no one has been spared by this health crisis.
We have therefore had to be very flexible in order to get through this difficult time, in keeping with each person’s capabilities and means. Similarly, we had to work differently, prioritize our actions and interventions without, however, losing sight of our strategic foundations and expected results.
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Over the last few months, the Réseau has been involved in a number of different forums dealing with issues related to COVID-19, always with the objective of ensuring that Francophones’ experiences and needs are taken into account by the authorities responsible for health care service planning and delivery in the context of the pandemic.
Similarly, while the health care system has moved forward with its transformation, the Réseau has multiplied its interactions with the new stakeholders (Ontario Health provincial agency, representatives of Ontario Health East, Ontario Health Teams) while maintaining its relationships with its existing partners, the Champlain and South East Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs), with which we have continued to work on implementation of our three-year French-Language Health Services Strategy.
We have continued to focus on our priorities: active offer of quality French-language health services – especially through designation under Ontario’s French Language Services Act – as well as the collection and analysis of evidence-based data on the system’s French-language health services capacity.
At the end of this extremely turbulent transition year – marked by the transformation of the health care system, the renewal of our mandate as a Planning Entity, the evaluation of our strategic plan, the pandemic, and remote work – I can definitely say that we have successfully weathered the storm while focusing on our objectives and priorities.
In closing, I would like to sincerely thank the members of the Réseau’s team for their perseverance and flexibility over the last year and congratulate them on the amount of work they have accomplished for our community.
Relationship with the Community
From “in person” to “virtual”, that is how we could describe the transformation of our relationship with the Francophone community since the beginning of the lockdown, starting with our Annual General Meeting. For over 20 years, the Réseau’s AGM has been an opportunity for getting together, dialoguing, collaborating and networking. Last September 24, on the eve of Franco-Ontarian Day, we held our first on-line AGM. This new format – which attracted almost a hundred participants – gave us an opportunity to share our key accomplishments and launch our updated branding.
Over the last few months, electronic communications have come to the forefront; it is more important than ever that our community be able to get information on the services, resources and news that affect it. This is the perspective from which we surveyed the 1500 subscribers to the Réseau Express – our French-language weekly community newsletter – on their preferences and needs.
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Survey participants indicated a high rate of satisfaction with the newsletter:
of respondents said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied”;
of respondents thought that the newsletter helped them “find the information, resources and services they needed”;
thought that the newsletter enabled them to stay informed about “the work carried out by the Réseau and the results achieved for the Francophone community”.
Respondents also indicated that the sections they found most relevant were Actualité du Réseau, Nouvelles and Ressources. In light of this information, we have considerably expanded these sections, especially the Nouvelles section – so our readers have access to accurate and coordinated information on the pandemic. And we have received a number of positive messages in response. To our faithful readers: thank you for your continuing support and feedback!
In the fall of 2020, we held a series of virtual focus groups as part of the Le Réseau à l’écoute project. Through these consultations, we learned more about how to collect patient and family caregiver experiences. Over the coming months, this project will become one of the Réseau’s main avenues for integrating your feedback into our recommendations to the health care system. Le Réseau à l’écoute is also part of our broader strategic communications and engagement plan, which will be implemented over the coming year. This document will, of course, be aligned with our next strategic plan.
The Réseau’s corporate members committee met on March 4. Thank you to all our partners who, notwithstanding their very busy schedules, participated in this regional French-language health services forum. During this meeting, our members reaffirmed the need to create a French-language services table and also discussed the importance of evidence-based data on Francophones’ health, and their needs with respect to recruitment of bilingual staff.
At the end of 2020-2021, we had 74 corporate members who supported French-language health services in our region. Over the last year, we welcomed two new members2, the Équipe psycho-sociale pour enfants, adolescents et familles de Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry and the Somerset West Community Health Centre, in Ottawa. Welcome!
As of March 31, 2021, the Réseau could count on the support of 986 individual members, an increase of 2.5% over last year. Thank you for supporting the Réseau’s mission and for being our ambassadors in your communities.
- Some of our corporate members were amalgamated over the last year, in particular the Centre psychosocial and Maison Fraternité, which are now part of Le CAP – Centre d’appui et de prévention. This is also the case for the Centre de services Guigues, which has joined the Montfort Renaissance family.
2020-2021 was the third consecutive year in which we collected evidence-based data on French-language health services capacity across the province. 1418 health service providers were asked to complete a French Language Services Report through the OZi web portal. And we are immensely proud to announce that we have the highest completion rate to date – 96% – despite the pandemic. Thank you to all our partners – Ministry of Health, LHINs, Planning Entities and service providers – who made this initiative possible.
At the end of each data collection period, the Réseau conducts an anonymous satisfaction survey of all users of the OZi portal. This continuous improvement exercise has been most helpful as user satisfaction with the data collection process has consistently increased over the last three years, as the figure below shows.
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