One message, 30 languages, an army of CIUSSS volunteers

Some of the CIUSSS employees who delivered vaccination messages in various languages. Top row, from left: Sanaz Azizi, Lady Davis Institute at the JGH (Farsi), Mila Touvykina, Nursing Consultant at Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre (Russian), Wilbren Joy Yuipco, Licensed Practical Nurse at the JGH (Tagalog and Cebuano). Bottom row, from left: Maya Cerda, Program Manager, CREGÉS (Spanish), Ghada Hajasa’ad, Administrative Agent, JGH Medical Records (Arabic), Yunan Zhou, Nurse, JGH Urology Clinic (Mandarin).
Some of the CIUSSS employees who delivered vaccination messages in various languages. Top row, from left: Sanaz Azizi, Lady Davis Institute at the JGH (Farsi), Mila Touvykina, Nursing Consultant at Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre (Russian), Wilbren Joy Yuipco, Licensed Practical Nurse at the JGH (Tagalog and Cebuano). Bottom row, from left: Maya Cerda, Program Manager, CREGÉS (Spanish), Ghada Hajasa’ad, Administrative Agent, JGH Medical Records (Arabic), Yunan Zhou, Nurse, JGH Urology Clinic (Mandarin).

Multilingual staff deliver vaccination information in Creole, Farsi, Russian and more.

Our CIUSSS is relying on a hidden weapon in the campaign to get people vaccinated: The rich language skills of its staff.

From Spanish to Mandarin, Farsi to Tagalog to Swahili, our employees speak a United Nations of languages—and they’ve volunteered to use them in the CIUSSS’s outreach campaign to promote COVID-19 vaccination among minority communities.

For staff members, the task has meant stepping outside their comfort zone and learning to give media interviews or record video messages. But the effort has paid off.

Piraveena Piremathasan, a Dietitian at CLSC de Parc-Extension, participated in a call-in show about vaccinations on Tamil-language radio
Piraveena Piremathasan, a Dietitian at CLSC de Parc-Extension, participated in a call-in show about vaccinations on Tamil-language radio

“It felt very rewarding,” says Piraveena Piremathasan, a Dietitian at the CLSC de Parc-Extension who participated in a call-in show about vaccinations on a Tamil-language radio station. “It’s always nerve-wracking to do live radio. But in the end, I felt I was able to speak directly to community members and give them the information they needed.”

Our CIUSSS has deployed an array of resources to promote vaccination in neighbourhoods with large concentrations of newcomers to Canada, such as Côte-des-Neiges and Parc Extension. The initiatives, which involve partnering with local community groups, include going door-to-door with interpreters and broadcasting multilingual messages from a truck’s loudspeaker. It’s a way of boosting vaccination rates by spreading the word to people in their own language.

“We want to offer services to everyone who wants to get vaccinated, regardless of their language, culture, or where they live,” says Dominique Dufour, Assistant Director of Frontline Integrated Services, who is responsible for local public health.

To help in the effort, our CIUSSS’s Department of Communications and Media Relations emailed messages to staff, asking whether they’d be willing to record messages or do media interviews in languages other than English or French.

A wave of volunteers responded favourably, revealing the wealth of language spoken by our staff across the CIUSSS. On any given day in our healthcare network, there’s an employee able to converse in Hindi or Creole, Arabic or Italian, German, Vietnamese or Yiddish. Pooled together, the nurses, physiotherapists, orderlies, managers and others who answered the call could speak 30 languages and a smattering of dialects. Now, they’ve become ambassadors for the CIUSSS’s ambitious vaccination campaign.

“They’re ready to do things beyond their usual tasks,” Ms. Dufour says. “It shows real dedication and personal investment.”

For Ms. Piremathasan, the call-in show allowed her to address some of the misunderstandings and reluctance that might prevent people from going to a vaccination site. Tamil-speaking callers asked her a range of questions: Could they register for the vaccination by phone? (Yes). Are all the different vaccines effective? (Yes). What is the process at the vaccination centre? (Ms. Piremathasan was able to tell them, because she also volunteers as an injector at the Décarie Square site).

At times, Ms. Piremathasan found herself countering misinformation that runs rampant on social media. “People really appreciated getting accurate information. They needed guidance from somebody in the field,” she said.

Mila Touvykina, a Nursing Consultant at Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre, volunteered her time to record a message in Russian for a series of videos on vaccination that has been posted on the CIUSSS’s social media platforms.

“We have to make every effort to reach as many people as possible, so that we can end this pandemic,” Ms. Touvykina says. “When it comes to health, being able to speak a person’s language can go a long way and help create a link of trust.”

Do you speak a language other than French or English and want to help the CIUSSS spread the word on vaccinations? Contact the Communications team at Communications@jgh.mcgill.ca. and include your name, position, where you work and the language or languages you speak.

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