Montreal

Community groups create support network for Haitian health-care workers battling COVID-19

A group of auxiliary nurses started a number of projects to ensure Haitian Montrealers are better prepared, and supported, in the battle against the virus.

Facing equipment shortages and difficult conditions, community banded together to help each other

The group Ralliement des infirmières et infirmières auxiliaires Haïtiennes de Montréal at their annual health information session in 2019, in Montréal-Nord. (Submitted by Ralliement des infirmières et infirmières auxiliaires Haïtiennes de Montréal)

Montreal's Haitian community has been deeply impacted by the pandemic — from when the first wave of COVID-19 cases was overwhelming long-term care homes until today.

"The population was really hurt," said Maud Pierre-Pierre, president of the Ralliement des infirmières et infirmières auxiliaires Haïtiennes de Montréal.

"A lot of [members of the community] were coming home infected," she said, since many Haitians work in health care fields as nurses, patient attendants and doctors.

According to public health data, Montréal-Nord, which has a large Haitian population, was among the neighbourhoods with the highest infection rates in the city.

And an analysis conducted last year by CBC News found the strongest correlation between 24 socio-economic factors and cases per 100,000 residents in Montreal's neighbourhoods was the percentage of Black residents.

So, the group of auxiliary nurses started a number of projects to ensure Haitian Montrealers are better prepared, and supported, in the battle against the virus.

Maud Pierre-Pierre says it was important to come together and support the community, as members were working long hours while the virus swept first through care homes and then into neighbourhoods. (Submitted by Ralliement des infirmières et infirmières auxiliaires Haïtiennes de Montréal)

With the collaboration of the Association des Médecins Haïtiens à L'Étranger and the Fondation des Médecins Canado-Haitiens, they launched an awareness campaign in Montréal-Nord at the start of the pandemic.

"We constantly repeated the measures and explained the importance of the [public health guidelines] and how it affects us as a community culturally," said Pierre-Pierre.

The groups handed out masks, put up posters and spoke with community groups and religious institutions about the virus and the importance of following the rules.

During the summer months, the groups opened a hotline run by doctors and nurses, volunteering their time to offer support to Haitian health-care professionals.

And more recently, they ran a mental health campaign that was broadcasted on the radio and haitian TV programs.

Pierre-Pierre said the focus is assuring workers that it is normal to feel depressed or anxious about the risk of infecting their loved ones.

"[We] want to give them the breathing space," she said. "It is normal to feel [this way] and there is help out there," she said.

Yolande Charles says a lack of protective equipment was one reason why the virus spread into communities where health-care workers lived. (Submitted by Yolande Charles)

Yolande Charles is a retired doctor and the president of the Fondation des Médecins Canado-Haitiens.

"As you know, at the beginning of the pandemic, we did not have the necessary safety precautions," she said. "So for that reason, the number of cases were so high in our community."

She added that some are living in precarious housing situations or in tight spaces that make physical distancing within the household challenging.

Charles also highlighted how Black communities have a large percentage of people who have other underlying medical conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, which can make them more at risk of complications if they become infected.

The support provided by the Haitian community groups is continuing as the virus approaches its second year in Quebec. An upcoming Zoom meeting for health-care workers is planned for March, where they plan to discuss issues surrounding pain.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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