UPDATE: Divisions grow deeper over hospital language dispute

UPDATE: Divisions grow deeper over hospital language dispute
Helene Periard

The divisions between South Stormont Township council and leadership at the Cornwall Community Hospital appeared to deepen following a meeting between the two over hiring practises at the health care facility embroiled in a language controversy.

Helene Periard, chair of the Cornwall Community Hospital board, and other leadership officials with the facility went before South Stormont council Wednesday night to explain to councillors the policies employed when it comes to hiring individuals based on language.

While Periard and Greg Downing, the hospital’s director of human resources, went to great lengths to explain the policies, in the end the municipal council wasn’t buying any of it.

And there is every indication South Stormont’s move to withhold $30,000 in hospital funding for 2012 will remain so, at least for the time being.

In one exchange between Periard and South Stormont Mayor Brian McGillis, the visions were apparent.

McGillis was explaining to Periard how difficult the francophone testing is for Anglophones looking to gain full-time employment at the hospital, and he challenged Periard to come up with any students she may have taught during her time as an educator at immersion schools in Cornwall, who could pass the testing.

“I have met a number of my students,” said Periard.

“Not at the Cornwall Community Hospital,” retorted McGillis, which was welcomed with thunderous applause from hospital protesters seated in the council chambers.

The hospital has made it a requirement that new nurses be bilingual in order to work, which has sparked a furious debate in the community about language rights. Some believe being bilingual should be an asset, not a requirement.

McGillis wants the hospital to change its hiring practises in an effort to relax policies that some have argued make it difficult for them to work at the hospital.

“A lot of people are being passed over,” said McGillis, holding a file folder of what he claimed were several individual cases of persons who claimed they were not hired because they are not fluently bilingual. “We know now that there is a problem…and we’re asking (hospital officials) to fix it.”

In response Periard suggested the hospital has made some changes to the way it defines new Francophone hires, based on their competency.

On future job postings, hospital requirements for “intermediate” French language competency will mean “having limited skills”, advanced requirements will be defined as “having functional skills” in the French language. A job that requires “superior” French language skills remains unchanged.

Periard also suggested talks have taken place with two of the CCH unions to improve full-time access for their part-timers.

One union, the Ontario Nurses Association, already has an agreement to promote unilingual part-timers to full-time.

Periard said the hospital would be “breaking the law” if it didn’t ensure new employees could meet the needs of  the community; a level determined by managers for each hospital department.

The Cornwall area has been designated by the province as a region where bilingual hospital services are required.

McGillis disputed that, saying the hospital board independently sets its policies, citing an explanation by Ontario francophone minister Madeleine Meilleur the CCH board is not ordered directly by the health ministry.

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