France Tolhurst

French Language Coordinator

Indigenous Service Coordinator

I went into Nursing in 1966. Health care played a big role in my family. We went through the experience of my father dying when I was 13 years old. Nursing, for me, was a good way to help people. The fact that two of my sisters also became nurses probably also had an influence.

After I graduated from nursing, I joined the Air Force, which gave me the chance to work in different areas of the country. When I left the Air Force, my focus was mostly in critical care nursing like ICU, neurosurgery, emergency, and recovery room.

In the mid-1980s, I went back to school to get a degree in business because I realized I needed a stronger business focus to move up in health care. For the first time, as a head nurse, you had to do your own budgeting.

A car accident in 1989 left me really badly injured, and there was no way I could go back to front-line nursing.

I wanted to stay in health care, so I became the manager of a supportive housing program for persons with disabilities in Peel Region. When the Ministry of Health introduced the French Language Services position, it felt like a good fit because I am French, and I was concerned that French-speaking residents were not getting access to health services in French.

The position started with the Ministry of Health in 1995 but then moved into the LHIN in 2006. I was originally assigned to Peel Region as well as Waterloo-Wellington and exclusively in Waterloo Wellington in 2010. In 2013, I was also assigned the Indigenous Health and Wellness portfolio which I really appreciated and learned a lot about Indigenous history and culture; this part of my work has been the icing on the cake of my career. My role has been about making sure the WWLHIN is meeting strategy, goals, and objectives of the Ministry of Health and their priorities for French language and Indigenous health services. It means consulting with the French and the Indigenous communities to identify the needs and the gaps

The area is becoming more diverse. There are nearly 20,000 Indigenous residents living in this area. 25% of residents in the Region of Waterloo don’t have English as a first language and 20% in Wellington County.

It’s so important to help people get access to health care in their own language. Language can be a very big barrier. It costs the system a lot of money because if you don’t understand how to take care of your illness or what you’re supposed to do, you’ll end up going back to Emergency.

I remember one man who was having repeated conflicts with police and was arrested at least three times. Finally, he was connected with services in French and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. As soon as he received the medication he needed, those confrontations stopped.

It’s not always easy to find French-speaking health professionals. French-speaking Ontario residents tend to go into other areas – like business or teaching. When we recruit from Quebec, the cost of living makes it difficult for people to stay, especially because they have lots of opportunity in Quebec. So we’re being innovative and looking at technology and for different recruitment programs for primary care services providers.

We have had some successes worth noting. In 2010, the federal government launched a call for proposals for French-language services to improve access to French services and healthcare across the country. We applied for a grant to pilot a project so that French-speaking residents could have access to psychiatrist services in French through the Ontario Telemedicine Network. The pilot lasted for three years. When the pilot ended, the WWLHIN continued to fund the program, and it became multi-lingual. It was copied across the country.

For Indigenous Services, we are consulting with the community so they can make decisions about the programs that will be available for indigenous population instead of having the government make those decisions. We now have an Indigenous health and wellness program with a coordinator in Wellington County and in Waterloo Region. As I’m getting set to retire, the Indigenous Services Lead will be a separate role here at the WWLHIN.

I’ve enjoyed being the voice for the communities I serve. I think my colleagues see me at meetings and think “Oh, here she comes again,” but it’s been very important to me to make sure everyone in the organization understands the need to address the issue of diversity when planning and considering funding.

I’ve put off retirement for six years, but now I’m ready. I’m looking forward to getting back to some volunteer work. When I moved to Guelph, I was on nine boards. I was never home. I’ve had a few agencies approach me. I’ll miss coming into work, but I feel good knowing that the WWLHIN knows how important this work is, and it will carry on after I retire.


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