As the fall sitting of the legislative assembly drew to a close last week, John Main went on the offensive again over the Government of Nunavut’s long-term care plans.

There’s a pressing need for a comprehensive strategy on Elders’ care in Nunavut; the existing plan for regional long-term care centres is “top-down”; and the territorial government must consult with the public, the private sector and Inuit organizations before proceeding, said Main, chair of the regular members’ caucus.

“It appears much of the government’s work on Elder care has shifted to behind closed doors,” says John Main, chair of the regular members caucus.
photo courtesy of John Main

He revisited these issues on Nov. 5 while delivering a lengthy speech that was frequently punctuated by rounds of applause from MLAs.

“I’m deeply disappointed in the planning to date… I feel that our government has built its position on a very poor foundation on Elder care,” he said. “The government’s current plan does not reflect meaningful consultations with our partners in Inuit organizations, municipalities, nor with Elders or their families who stand to be directly impacted by decisions made on this subject… unfortunately, since the development of our mandate, it appears much of the government’s work on Elder care has shifted to behind closed doors.

The GN has announced that a 24-bed long-term care centre will be constructed in Rankin Inlet beginning in 2021. Another 24-bed facility will be built in Cambridge Bay and a 48-bed care centre will be located in Iqaluit.

Requests for similar facilities in Kugluktuk, Pond Inlet, Baker Lake and Kinngait have been rejected.

“There’s nothing stopping communities from making or building facilities that can house Elders in a non-assisted living manner,” then-health minister George Hickes said, noting that the GN has limited resources and bringing Elders back from southern care homes is a primary objective. “Most importantly, I think there’s a message that is being missed out of all this, Mr. Speaker, is that our goal is to provide safe housing that meets the clinical needs of our Elders. I know there has been a lot of discussion and there has been a lot of support for our Elders across the territory. It’s unfortunate that not every family supports their Elders the way they should. We need to provide safe living spaces for our Elders.”

Gjoa Haven MLA Tony Akoak sought assurance that the existing long-term care facility in his community won’t be closed when the regional centres open.

Hickes replied, “I will not be closing any of our current Elder facilities under my watch.”

Residential school comparison

Main referenced the “deeply-scarred” and “traumatized” existences Elders endured in their younger days due to forced relocations and the residential school experience – when they were torn away from their homes – and he compared that to the approach the GN is taking with care homes based in regional centres.

“Many of our Elders are themselves victims of past actions by governments deciding on their behalf and making decisions that split up families from their loved ones,” he said. “Many of our communities are still trying to recover from these traumas, so the responsibility falls to everyone in this room to make sure the services we offer, Mr. Speaker, and the way in which we offer them are trauma-informed and take this unfortunate legacy into account. This legacy would seem to suggest that forcing relocation to another community be a last resort and something to be avoided to the best possible.”

Main added that he doesn’t expect the GN will be able to give every community what they ask for, but there’s value in partnering with municipalities, societies and businesses.

“I do not believe it to be appropriate for a government to put a plan in front of us on a critical issue like Elder care and say, ‘Take it or leave it.’ I expect the government to put their plan in front of MLAs in this assembly as well as in front of our residents and ask, ‘Is this good enough?’”

Former health minister George Hickes: “I’m not looking at providing a formal consultation, a travelling roadshow to get feedback from every community in the territory.”
photo courtesy of George Hickes

Hickes said he can reach out to hamlets, mayors and councils “to see if there is an appetite to provide feedback.”

“But at this stage of the game, I’m not looking at providing a formal consultation, a travelling roadshow to get feedback from every community in the territory. It’s not feasible and it’s not cost-effective at this time,” said the health minister. “I firmly believe that through different discussions, this isn’t a new discussion that just popped up; this has been ongoing for a number of years. I’ve had a lot of different perspectives brought my way… at the end of the day the health and safety of our elders is my priority.”

He wrapped up his remarks by acknowledging how sensitive this topic is because it means some aging Nunavummiut won’t get to remain at home during their waning years.

“It’s hard. It’s hard for every one of us,” said Hickes. “No one can sit in here and say that they haven’t shed tears over some of the stories or personal experiences that we have heard, and, trust me, I hear a lot of them.”

Due to a cabinet shuffle that became effective Monday, the file is now in the hands of Lorne Kusugak, who succeeded Hickes as minister of health.

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Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...