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CISSSO user committee returns to Pontiac

Sophie Kuijper Dickson
Pontiac Nov. 28, 2023
Residents and users of CISSSO health and social service facilities in the Pontiac region now have a committee of people dedicated to representing their rights and needs to institutional authorities.
After six years without one, a new user committee has been established to work with the three resident committees in the region to ensure proper living conditions for people living in long-term care and advocate, more generally, for better health services in the region.
“A lot of our very sick and elderly have to travel for services where they didn’t have to travel before,” said Jennifer Larose, the newly appointed president of the user committee.
“Since the amalgamation, I’ve seen and heard of all the different services that have deteriorated, or are gone. We’re hoping that the government is going to try to get things back on track,” she said.
“You only live once, so if I can leave a little bit of a mark on earth before I leave, that wouldn’t be too bad.”
Larose is one of six members of the committee that met for the first time on Nov. 28, when she was appointed to the position of committee president, Shelley Heaphy was appointed vice-president, and Bruno St-Cyr was appointed secretary treasurer.
Other members include Susan Richards, Sandra Bennett and Mona Durocher Davis.
Protecting rights
Mansfield resident Pierre St-Cyr was hired by CISSSO as a resource person responsible for establishing and facilitating operations of resident and user committees in the Pontiac region.
“It’s a good thing for the Pontiac because we need to have official guardians to make sure the rights of the residents in our establishments are taken care of,” St-Cyr said, referring to the 12 rights of any user of Quebec’s health and social services network.
These include the right to receive services in English, and the right to lodge a complaint.
In June, St-Cyr set up resident committees at the long-term care homes (CHSLDs) in Mansfield and Shawville, and at the long-term care unit in the Pontiac Hospital. Together, these facilities are home to about 120 people.
When possible, members of the resident committees actually live in the facilities each committee represents, but St-Cyr said often residents in these establishments have cognitive challenges which essentially disqualify them from committee membership.
In these cases, their family members sit on those resident committees instead.
“The residents committee has three main responsibilities,” St-Cyr explained. “To inform the residents on their 12 rights, to act as a guardian as to their quality of life, and to make sure management is made aware of issues that need corrections.”
The user committee has additional responsibilities, which include ensuring the money allocated to the resident committees is indeed used to inform residents of their rights and improve their living conditions, and helping residents make complaints about the services they’re receiving.

“Once the user’s committee is involved, it’s because the complainant wasn’t able to sway management on the issue, so we need to go a step further and engage other oversight bodies able to step in,” St-Cyr explained.
All committee members are volunteers, and according to St-Cyr, were drawn to participate through word of mouth.
Because the user committee is essentially starting from scratch, members have some work to do to learn what exactly the work is cut out for them.
“Before we are able to run we’ll need to walk. So we’ll learn to walk,” St-Cyr said.
First steps will include getting in touch with other user committees in the Outaouais region that have been active for longer, to learn about what they do.
“We’ve got a lot of things to study to get right into the user’s committee,” Larose said. “We’re new at this, but we’re all willing to work together and are all of the same thought of mind that we want to see the health improve up here.”
The committee will be granted a budget of between $16,000 and $20,000 annually.
Each of the three local resident committees will receive $1,000 of this budget, and the rest will be used to execute the committee’s mandate.
Concerns over Bill 15
The committee plans to meet again on Jan. 8, after its new members have had some time to review materials and learn more about what their work will involve.
Larose said a big question ahead of them is also how the province’s new mammoth healthcare bill, which the CAQ government is hoping to push through by Dec. 8, will affect the work the user committee hopes to do.
“With Bill 15, a lot of people now are starting to panic,” Larose said. ““Is CISSSO going to be abolished? It’s all questions that we don’t know yet.”
Pontiac MNA and Liberal health critic André Fortin said the bill did contain many provisions around user committees that weakened the power the committees had by replacing them with a national user committee.
“After lengthy battles both from user representatives and opposition parties it seems most of the issues with user’s committees have been resolved, though certainly not all of them,” Fortin told The Equity.
“I suspect that people who get involved will still have a voice around the table. Now will it be listened to by decision makers that are not even in Gatineau anymore but at Santé Québec headquarters in Quebec City, that is the part that remains to be seen.”
Larose said she is also worried about how the bill will affect a patient’s right to receive medical care in English.
Last week, health minister Christian Dubé tabled an amendment to Bill 15 that would give the province’s centralized health-care agency, Santé Québec, the right to end bilingual health services in certain institutions.
According to reporting from the Montreal Gazette, the new amendment would give the province the right to remove English services in regions where the minority communities are smaller than 50 per cent of the population.
On Thursday André Fortin raised concern the amendment presented a “real threat to removing services” for English speakers in the province.
On Friday, Dubé backtracked on the amendment, telling reporters he would modify or remove the amendment in order to honour his commitment that “there will be no change in services for anglos or the status of their hospitals,” the Gazette reported.
But Fortin said the issue is far from resolved.
“The Minister had the opportunity on Friday during our session to remove that amendment at that point. He chose not to discuss it. So I’m hoping we can get to it sooner rather than later to understand where the government wants to go with this and make the necessary arguments to try to steer them in a sensible direction here,” Fortin said.
He said the amendment, if passed, would not immediately affect English services at the Pontiac Hospital, where over 50 per cent of the area served is anglophone, but that it could affect services in Wakefield, where the English-speaking population is smaller than 50 per cent.
There are people who need services in their own language right across the province. The 50 per cent threshold might save some areas like the Pontiac, but it still puts a number of Quebecers at risk and who knows, one day maybe the Pontiac would go below that threshold,” Fortin said.

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