EDITORIAL: Build it, and they will come (home)

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We welcome with open arms the suggestion that the Government of Nunavut is ready to make the required investment to build spaces for 156 long-term care beds — 108 in Iqaluit and 24 in each of the Kitikmeot and the Kivalliq.

We’re not the only ones who have been waiting for this excellent news. After all, there are at the moment only 44 long-term care beds in Nunavut, and all of them are full. Plus there are 30 elders living at similar homes in the south, and many others are waiting for such care.

The demand far outstrips the supply, and once these long-term care facilities are opened, it won’t be long before all of the beds are filled.

As the population of Canada ages, the pressure increases on care facilities and other residences for seniors across the country. Wait lists are not unusual in Ontario, for example, with the uncomfortable truth being that seniors are often waiting for current residents to pass on or be moved to a different facility.

But in Nunavut, many of our elders – almost half of those in care – are left to pass or deal with serious illnesses in the south. These people deserve to be at home in their final years.

Otherwise, Nunavut supports this approach. According to the figures in the 2015 report ‘Continuing Care in Nunavut: 2015 to 2035’, most Nunavummiut requiring care are getting that care in their homes. The government spent $8.7 million in 2012-13 to provide home care for 730 elders – of a total of 970 Nunavummiut 60 years or older. That compares to the $6 million spent that year to fund 44 beds.

In other words, it’s financially sound to keep people in their own homes as long as possible. Comparisons to other jurisdictions, specifically other Nordic countries in the report, support the same approach.

But there should be no question that Nunavut still needs more long-term care beds. The NWT had 160 spaces as of the 2015 report, compared to 44 in Nunavut, and the two territories have similarly sized populations.

The report estimated that Nunavut would need 25 beds to clear the waiting list at the time, but an additional 53 to 72 beds would be needed by 2035. According to that report, 156 beds is more than what is required.

We still think the spaces will be filled by those in need of care. The population is aging here, too, with the life expectancy of Nunavummiut zig-zagging higher in the long-term. And the report suggests more Nunavummiut will get dementia, validating the need for these spaces.

As security, the government seems to be leaving room for growth by proposing three facilities, giving them the power to determine whether the true need warrants continued expansion.

But the missing piece, it seems, speaks to a larger problem for the government. You can build these facilities, but how do you staff them?

It’s already hard enough to staff the territory’s health care facilities, and with a lack of support worker training programs in the territory, the infrastructure will be the least of the government’s worries.

We call on the government and Arctic College to work together to ensure our elders get the home-grown care they deserve in their final years.