Ahead of the curve in Summerside

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Summerside’s Summerset Manor is breaking new ground.

The facility is the first on P.E.I. with a bilingual wing and one of relatively few in the country to offer the service, outside of New Brunswick and Quebec of course.

Why is this important? Ask Zelica Arsenault.

She says having the opportunity to speak French makes her feel at home and more comfortable. It seems that that would be the least we can do for the elderly as they move from the comfort and familiarity of their homes to manor-type facilities full of change, new routines, new people, new sounds, smells etc.

It can’t be the easiest of transitions to make, especially at an advanced age.

It’s true that it may not be financially feasible or even necessary in P.E.I. to offer French in all manors, but there are enough French-speaking seniors here to justify at least the option for those who can benefit from it. Perhaps even more surprising is that it is a service that was not available before now.

Arsenault says she’s tried not to lose her French over the years and this will help. Growing up in Rustico, Arsenault says she was taught at a young age the importance of knowing two languages.

Beginning in 2011, the Société Santé en français with help from the Réseau Santé en français Î.-P.-É, began a pilot project at the local manor to improve French health services to Francophone residents.

Residents are currently using all 26 beds in the French wing so it seems the effort has been a worthwhile endeavor.

Aurel Schofield, president of the Société Santé en français, said she hopes other facilities will follow suit. Her organization intends to use information from the Summerset project as they continue to urge other communities to include French in their long-term care facilities.

Back in Summerside, the benefits continue to grow. Gayle Lamont, administrator for Summerset Manor, said the program is changing the environment within the building’s walls, including promoting a new spirit of respect. It’s become a priority, she says.

Staff surveyed each resident to see if they could speak French and asked if they wanted to be part of the pilot program; today they continue to work with residents to make the project more effective.

Lamont said it best: the program has added a sense of belonging.

Few things in life are as important as the feeling of belonging – especially in one’s own home.

Organizations: Société Santé

Geographic location: Summerside, P.E.I., New Brunswick Quebec Rustico

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