Intercultural champion program taking root at Anna-Laberge

A new program at Anna-Laberge Hospital designed to help First Nations clients feel more comfortable when seeking care will soon get an expansion to include all the health-care institutions in and around Kahnawake.

The Anna-Laberge Hospital ‘Intercultural Champions’ program kicked off in March with the idea of creating an atmosphere of inclusion and safety for First Nations clients, said Cultural Safety Project manager Janaena Coehlo.

“We started in March with 16 people, with the hopes of fostering an atmosphere where First Nations clients, especially from Kahnawake, are more comfortable seeking care and feeling at home in the facility,” she said.

The 16 employees are spread across the Centre Integree des Services Sante et Sociaux (CISSS) -Monteregie-Ouest facilities with the majority being Anna-Laberge Hospital staffers, Coelho said.

“We tried to make sure that the champions were spread across the departments of the hospital, with each champion being responsible for the cultural safety in their department,” she said.

The question of cultural safety in Quebec hospitals has been in the public sphere since the death of Joyce Echaquan in a Joliette hospital in September 2020. Echaquan complained of stomach pain repeatedly upon her admission to the hospital, only to be met with racial slurs and neglect by hospital staffers. The whole ordeal was livestreamed on Facebook.

She died the next day.

“The 16 intercultural champions are very sensitive to First Nations cultural safety and their concerns,” Coelho said. “They spent an entire day in March at the Longhouse on 207 to learn about Traditional medicines and to be trained in how those medicines are applied.”

An upcoming June 5 meeting will determine when the program is rolled out to include the West Island CISSS facilities, including LaSalle and Lachine hospitals, Coelho added.

“It will be up for discussion,” Coelho said. “In the interim, the intercultural champions are getting regular training through Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC) so they can better understand and be sensitive to, the needs of First Nations people who come to the hospital.”

Approximately 1,000 Kahnawake community members visit the hospital every year.

“They will be meeting regularly with people from the community as well,” Coelho said. “Their jobs will be to remove barriers and we will be further defining those roles as we move forward.”

Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase