La Maison Bleue, working with our CIUSSS, awarded for ground-breaking work
Dr. Vania Jimenez and the team at La Maison Bleue have been showered with prizes and accolades over the past year, but they don’t intend to sit on their laurels as they head into 2022.
“I’m addicted to people’s stories, and since I like stories with happy endings, I know there’s more to do,” says Dr. Jimenez, a family doctor at the Village-Santé Family Medicine Group in our CIUSSS. “I’m not in the virtue business. I just like stories whose endings are better than they might otherwise be.”
The pathway to those happier endings passes through the innovative approach at La Maison Bleue, a place where vulnerable mothers and their babies can get the support of healthcare professionals in a convivial, homelike setting. Since opening the first Maison Bleue in Côte-des-Neiges in 2007, Dr. Jimenez and co-founder Amélie Sigouin, working hand in hand with CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, have helped ensure better outcomes for hundreds of families.
Stepping into La Maison Bleue in Côte-des-Neiges, you can see their philosophy at work. Young mothers carrying babies in their arms enter a homey setting where they can access a range of healthcare services under one roof. Downstairs, they can meet other mothers in a communal kitchen and have their children observed by a social worker in an adjacent play room. Upstairs, in the clinical offices, they can have a post-partum check-up with a nurse or physician.
The set-up is described as a “village”—a place where at-risk women who might not otherwise seek healthcare will feel comfortable. And in the case of La Maison Bleue’s sites in Côte-des-Neiges and Parc-Extension, that healthcare is provided by nurses, doctors, midwives, social workers and specialized educators from CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.
The set-up is described as a “village”—a place where at-risk women who might not otherwise seek healthcare will feel comfortable.
“I couldn’t have done anything without the CIUSSS,” says Dr. Jimenez, who continues to work at the CLSC Côte-des-Neiges and at the Jewish General Hospital. “They were there from the start.”
The group’s formula, which begins during pregnancy and follows children until age 5, has won wide acclaim. In the past year alone, La Maison Bleue received the Social Impact prize in the Health and Well-Being category from the magazine L’actualité, and the Hippocrates Grand Prize from The Patient magazine. Dr. Jimenez was also a finalist for the humanism prize from the Collège des médecins du Québec. In addition, she and Ms. Sigouin, her daughter, were also presented with medals as 2020 inductees into the Order of Montreal.
(Besides all this, Dr. Jimenez published a novel inspired by her life as a mother of seven who was born in Cairo to Armenian parents and put down roots in Quebec).
The idea for La Maison Bleue came to Dr. Jimenez when she was delivering babies at the JGH. “I felt that I lost track of what happened to the mothers after the delivery,” she recalls. She envisioned a service that offered support before and after delivery for women who were vulnerable—whether because they were recent immigrants, victims of conjugal violence, struggling with mental-health problems or for other reasons. The goal was to tackle social inequalities and offer all babies the best opportunities, regardless of their background.
“I couldn’t have done anything without the CIUSSS. They were there from the start.”– Dr. Vania Jimenez
That vision has since translated into improved health outcomes: 95 per cent of the women followed by La Maison Bleue breastfeed their babies after they’re discharged from hospital, compared to the Montreal average of 80 per cent. The approach meshes with CIUSSS West-Central Montreal’s breastfeeding policy to promote maternal and infant health.
And only 3.9 per cent of babies seen at La Maison Bleue have a low birth weight, compared with 5.7 per cent for Quebec.
Dr. Jimenez and Ms. Sigouin say that La Maison Bleue, at its very inception, received the backing of CSSS de la Montagne, which was later integrated into CIUSSS West-Central Montreal. “We really had to get off the beaten track to do what we wanted to do. It was a social innovation, and the CIUSSS demonstrated that it was possible to do it,” says Ms. Sigouin, an early childhood practitioner. “The CIUSSS believed in the project and they continue to carry it along with us.”
During the pandemic, she notes, senior managers and members of Frontline Integrated Services Directorate from our CIUSSS ensured adequate staffing and services at La Maison Bleue, which was crucial in preventing social isolation among the women who rely on the non-profit organization.
“We were able to count on the CIUSSS to support us in a really unconditional way,” Ms. Sigouin says.
The prizes bestowed on La Maison Bleue over the past year also belong to the teams from the CIUSSS and Village-Santé Family Medicine Group, she adds. “They share in the honours.”
In addition to Côte-des-Neiges and Parc Extension, La Maison Bleue operates in Saint-Michel and Verdun. It plans to open a fifth location, in Montreal North, in 2023.