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Health Services in French for the Edmonton Community

Two of the Edmonton’s large hospitals were established by French religious communities with the support of the public at large as well as the Catholic population: Edmonton General Hospital, established in 1895, and Misericordia Hospital, in 1900. Early on, the nursing staff was francophone, and necessarily bilingual, and several of the doctors were French-speaking as well, but it can not be said that these were bilingual institutions, nor francophone.

Francophones who were patients of francophone doctors could, and did, receive services in French through their private clinics. By 1950, as concerns services in French, there were still a good number of health service providers in Edmonton, who also provided services to the outlying community, Edmonton being a service center for specialists. Health care at that time was privately funded, and individuals were responsible for their medical fees. There were a few exceptions; through the Canadian Cancer Society and the Department of Health of Alberta, cancer patients were exempted from the bulk of the cost of treatment. Treatment of tuberculosis, which was rampant, was obligatory, and patients were interned at provincial sanatoriums where care was also provided at no cost. But there was no service in French, unless some member of the staff happened to speak the language, and there was certainly less French presence in those institutions than in the Catholic ones. As for services for the blind or the deaf, nothing was (or is) available for francophone children in Alberta, and it was not unheard of for entire families to move to Québec for a few years to obtain services in French for them. But for the majority of Franco-Albertans families dealing with these handicaps, the only available option was to learn English and obtain the service locally for their children, a situation which is still prevalent to this day. Special needs children, such as autism, can be integrated in the French schools, but this is a service provided through the Department of Education and not that of Health Care.

In 1950, francophone health care professionals of the Edmonton area advertised regularly in La Survivance.  A typical example had eleven of the twelve doctors in the ads practicing in Edmonton, many have their office at the Le Marchand Mansion. Of these, there were general practitioners, five others were surgeons, there was a specialist in gynecology and obstetrics, one urologist, a pediatrician, and one orthopaedic and traumatologic surgeon. Four dentists advertised services in French, as did two optometrists. In 1960, the list was similar, a few new names, and a few of the older ones had retired; the numbers of francophone doctors declined with the years however.  There were, of course, Francophone doctors and nurses in the outlying areas, but those in Edmonton had access to better facilities and some of them were more specialized.

In 1958, with the passing of the Alberta Health Act, grants for construction and for day-to-day operation of hospitals became available, but private hospitals, many of which were owned by the Catholic Church, could no longer be built. Money was still available for upgrading, but it entailed a great deal of paper work. Catholic hospitals were hit by another unexpected blow. During the 1960s, when religious communities seemed to be the least expecting it, recruitment declined in an unprecedented fashion. Many Catholic hospitals had nursing schools, but the congregations were unable to keep up with the staffing demands, and most of them eventually transferred ownership of their hospitals to the province or municipal government. A few maintained a position on the board of directors of the governing council, and the Alberta Catholic Health Corporation (now Caritas) was created to regroup former Catholic owned hospitals and maintain Catholic health care in the province.

In the Edmonton area, two retirement homes were built. Manoir Saint-Joachim was officially opened on November 27, 1981, by the Honourable Mary Le Messurier, Minister of Culture for the government of Alberta. The impetus for the establishment of this senior citizens’ centre came from the parish of Saint-Joachim. A second manor, Manoir Saint-Thomas d’Aquin, was established on the south side a year later, and the two were consolidated shortly after. In total there are 140 units, and although they do serve the French community, the units are open to all. Manoir Saint-Joachim has many Anglophone residents.

Two recent projects cast a glow of hope as concerns health services in French. The implementation of Réseau Santé Albertain, a program funded by the federal government to help Francophones in minority situations obtain services in their language. Repertoires of health services providers have been assembled, a web site set up and a full-time director hired. The Réseau Santé Albertain has also been instrumental in making nursing courses available for francophones at the Campus Saint-Jean and the Faculty of Nursing of the University of Alberta. Permanent funding is not assured at this point for the Réseau Santé project.

The other large project is that of the Centre Santé Saint-Thomas Health Centre which is currently under construction on the former site of Maison Saint-Joseph, the provincial centre of the Filles de Jésus, across the street from the Campus Saint-Jean on the South Side of Edmonton. At this point, it is hoped that permanent funding will be made available to hire two full-time doctors for the centre, but that is still pending.

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