Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut October 26, 2016 - 11:30 am

Nunavut health minister promises better Inuit language communications

Unilingual elders struggle with English-only patient relations office

Nunavut's patient boarding home in Winnipeg. (FILE PHOTO)
Nunavut's patient boarding home in Winnipeg. (FILE PHOTO)

The Government of Nunavut’s Office of Patient Relations should do more to help unilingual Inuktitut speakers, Health Minister George Hickes said Oct. 24 in the legislative assembly.

Hickes said “yes” to Baker Lake MLA Simeon Mikkungwak when asked to confirm that the patient relations office will increase its number of Inuktitut-speaking employees.

Hickes explained that “there have been some challenges with filling the positions,” but thanked the staff employed at the office for their diligence and “very hard” work.

“That being said, can we do more? Yes,” Hickes said.

The Office of Patient Relations, which deals with a wide variety of communications from within the government and the general public, is often the first point of contact for Nunavummiut travelling outside the territory for medical care.

Mikkungwak’s questions stemmed from a statement he made earlier that day about unilingual cancer patients experiencing language barriers when travelling to Winnipeg for treatment.

“When medical clients try to contact the Office of Patient Relations to discuss their concerns, the office does not have adequate resources on hand to address their issue in the language of their choice,” Mikkungwak said.

To make matter worse, those same clients were forced to repeatedly sign documentation in Winnipeg that was only supplied in English.

“Patients who arrive to stay at the Winnipeg boarding facility are asked to read a form from a monitor and sign off on it before they are allowed to stay there,” Mikkungwak said.

“That fact that they have to repeatedly agree to a set of rules and regulations in a language they don’t understand adds insult to injury.”

The Kivalliq Inuit Centre, the GN’s patient boarding home in Winnipeg, is a 40-bed facility located a few blocks west of the city’s downtown core.

In the 2014, the building was criticized for uncomfortable furniture and beds, and in 2010 the faculty fought an outbreak of bedbugs.

Mikkungwak called on the government to ensure Inuit language needs are met “especially when it comes to health services.”

Hickes said his first goal at the office is the fill the remaining two positions with people fluent in Inuktitut in “the very near term.”

“The very moment that happens, we will be monitoring the activity to make sure that the staff there are given the resources to be able to do their job adequately,” he said.

“Like I had stated earlier, [the office] works very hard, as I’m sure most members here can attests. They’re doing a very good job of what they do.”

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