With fewer visitors allowed in hospitals, MLA calls for better interpretation services

Staton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife. (CKLB file photo.)

MLAs Steve Norn and Jackson Lafferty are hoping to improve hospital services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Through this pandemic, we have had a lot of people go to the hospital sick,” said Norn last week at the Legislative Assembly. “It has raised a lot of very sad stories that came across my desk, my e-mails. We have heard some of these terrible stories on the news about people being sick and dying alone because of COVID, and I was just praying that it never did, and I’m hoping it doesn’t go that route.”

The Tu Nehdé-Wiilideh MLA wanted to clarify how current social distancing protocols affect hospital visitation.

Diane Thom, minister of Health and Social Services, says visitors are currently allowed on a case-by-case basis.

“But, if you have family members who are terminally ill, we will look at allowing more than one,” she added.

‘I think we can do more’

A couple of days later, Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty brought up the difficulties for unilingual speakers — especially older residents  — during off hours at the hospital.

That can become especially difficult during the pandemic with fewer visitors to help communicate between their friend or family and staff.

Thom said the department has interpretation services over the phone and on mobile technologies like iPads.

“I’m just trying to picture myself as a 91-year-old in the hospital, speaking to somebody in the Tłı̨chǫ language, with an iPad in front of me or telephone beside me,” said Lafferty, “I think it would be a very difficult, challenging task. They’ve never been exposed to that. They’ve been born and raised in the bush, and all of the sudden, it’s an English environment in the hospital. I think we can do more, providing additional resources after hours. That’s what I’m after.”

The minister said her currently has interpreters on-call specifically for Tłı̨chǫ patients.

CKLB has reached out to HSS for on-call interpretation details in other languages.

“I think we can do more than just on-call,” said Lafferty.

He referred to a case where one of his elderly constituents was left at the hospital without interpretation and was confused about the vaccines and medication he was receiving.

Thom said she was open to improving interpretation service but didn’t say how.

Right now, with the COVID situation, it’s very difficult for us to do anything other than virtual,” she said.

About the Author

Francis Tessier-Burns
Francis was a reporter with CKLB from January 2019 to March 2023. In his time with CKLB, he had the immense pleasure and honour of learning about northern Indigenous cultures.