First Cree patient joins McGill patient committee aimed at improving hospital experience

·4 min read
Waskaganish resident Brian Esau, right, pictured with his wife Florence Visitor, became a dialysis outpatient at the McGill University Health Centre in 2019. (submitted by Brian Esau - image credit)
Waskaganish resident Brian Esau, right, pictured with his wife Florence Visitor, became a dialysis outpatient at the McGill University Health Centre in 2019. (submitted by Brian Esau - image credit)

A Cree patient from northern Quebec will play a key role in a new project that aims to make the hospitals of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) more welcoming places for Indigenous people.

Brian Esau is from the northern Cree community of Waskaganish, located some 1,400 kilometres north of Montreal. He has been a hemodialysis patient at the MUHC since 2019. In February, Esau was appointed to a patients' subcommittee that will work to improve outpatient services at the MUHC, among other things.

"I think it is important to have that representation — so they will know what the Indigenous patients encounter," said Esau in Cree. Esau is the first Cree to sit on the patients' committee and one of only a few Indigenous people, according to an official with the patients' committee.

"It is difficult being far away and not at home. A patient does better when they are treated well. When they are treated unfairly — they don't do as well. It makes it more difficult being in Montreal. This is why I agreed to join the committee."

A patient does better when they are treated well. -Brian Esau, MUHC hemodialysis patient

Pierre Y. Hurteau is the chair of the medical mission subcommittee that Esau now sits on. It is one of 14 patient subcommittees at the MUHC and gives recommendations on outpatient hospital care, such as dialysis units and ambulatory care, among others.

Translated into Inuktitut, East Cree and Mohawk

Other than Esau's appointment, the first phase of the initiative will see pamphlets on how to lodge a complaint translated into Inuktitut, East Cree and Mohawk. The second phase is about making the hospital environment more welcoming, by adding signs in Indigenous languages and having Indigenous art on the walls, according to Hurteau.

The project is being launched less than a year after the death of Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw mother of seven, who died last fall at a hospital in Joliette, located northeast of Montreal, while she broadcast a barrage of racist comments from hospital staff through her phone.

The patients committee at the McGill University Health Centre has appointed Waskaganish hemodialysis patient Brian Esau to its outpatient (medical mission) patients' committee.
The patients committee at the McGill University Health Centre has appointed Waskaganish hemodialysis patient Brian Esau to its outpatient (medical mission) patients' committee. (The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes)

Esau of Waskaganish said it's important for people to record any mistreatment they experience.

"I think there is a lot of mistreatment of Aboriginal and different ethnic [groups] in the healthcare system," said Esau. He encouraged people to come forward with their experiences at the MUHC.

"I think there is a "why bother" kind of thinking when people are mistreated." It is something he hopes will change.

Hurteau said what happened to Echaquan should never happen again and is part of what inspired the project.

'It's their hospital just as much as any other Quebecer'

Another inspiration for Hurteau came after an encounter around the same time at Royal Victoria Hospital, one of the institutions that is part of the MUHC. Hurteau struck up a conversation with two people in the emergency waiting room from northern Quebec.

"What I felt was that they sort of felt estranged in this hospital environment," said Hurteau.

Pierre Y. Hurteau is the chair of the medical mission subcommittee that Esau now sits on. It is one of 14 patient subcommittees at the MUHC and gives recommendations on outpatient hospital care, such as dialysis units and ambulatory care.
Pierre Y. Hurteau is the chair of the medical mission subcommittee that Esau now sits on. It is one of 14 patient subcommittees at the MUHC and gives recommendations on outpatient hospital care, such as dialysis units and ambulatory care.(submitted by Pierre Y. Hurteau)

"They felt like people from another country, although they were in their own country, asking for services in a Montreal hospital."

He said the idea for the project came out of that conversation.

"I said to myself, we have got to do something about this to make sure that the patients from up North … feel more welcome in the hospital environment. It is their hospital just as much as any other Quebecer."

Hurteau said even though Esau has only just been appointed, he is already contributing to the improvement of services "because he brings along firsthand experience."

Information on how to lodge a complaint at the MUHC can be found here.

Aside from the initiatives launched by the patients' committee at the MUHC and translation and other services that are available for some Indigenous patients, the administration also created a special committee last year to widen discussions and increase educational workshops around inclusion, diversity and equity.

The Committee for Action on Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (C-AIDE) expects to present recommendations later this year.