Experts in Aboriginal health say that home care for seniors is failing to meet the needs of remote First Nations communities, citing needs for more beds, better housing and greater cultural sensitivity.

“Our communities want to see a system that could support the elders better at the community level. They would like to keep their elders at home as much as possible,” said Janet Gordon, director of health services of the Sioux Lookout First Nation Health Authority.

Gordon says the federal government’s current Home and Community Care program misses the mark.

“It's really looked at as short-sighted services that is trying to be put in,” she said. “So in the long run, it doesn't meet the needs of any of the communities.”

Gordon says more services, including long-term care beds, are needed to help seniors live longer in their homes.

Need for long-term care beds

David Murray, CEO of the Meno Ya Win Health Centre, says that it doesn’t have enough beds to serve the whole of northwestern Ontario.

"We've done a study that shows that we should have 100 long-term care beds in our area to bring it to kind of the same service level that is enjoyed by Thunder Bay or Kenora or Rainy River,” Murray said.

David Murray

David Murray is CEO of Meno Ya Win Health Centre. He would like to build a second long-term care home in Sioux Lookout with culturally appropriate services. (CBC)

“So, we're tremendously under serviced in the number of beds we have."

Along with beds, Murray says that improving housing in these remote communities is a necessary firs step so that seniors have somewhere to stay.

“If the elderly come down to our hospital, often times they go home and somebody has moved into their house, because housing is so crowded and there's so much sub-standard housing,” he said.

Cultural sensitivity

Because of the lack of beds and services at the Meno Ya Win Health Centre, Murray says seniors from Sioux Lookout and remote communities further north end up going elsewhere, to places where the care is not culturally appropriate.

He says the centre has staff interpreters and traditional foods for its residents.

“We think that we do a good job of providing culturally appropriate care, but unfortunately, it's just so limited that many of our people are forced to go to other communities,” Murray said.

Teresa Trudeau

Teresa Trudeau, traditional coordinator with Anishnawbe Mushkiki in Thunder Bay, would like to see Aboriginal seniors living together in a facility with culturally appropriate care. (CBC)

Teresa Trudeau, a coordinator at the Anishnawbe Mushkiki clinic, also points to a greater need for cultural sensitivity among people who provide care to Aboriginal seniors – many of whom are survivors of residential schools.

"We need to consider that their memories are changing as they age…Their memory of that will be like it happened yesterday," Trudeau said.

She says it would also help to have all Aboriginal seniors under one roof.

"Our seniors are spread out in different long term care homes throughout the city,” Trudeau said. “They need to be somewhere where they can be together, because that's what enhances their health, is not being socially isolated."

More funding, support

Experts say the main challenge to improving level of senior care in these remote northern Ontario communities is a lack of funding, both federal and provincial.

Gordon says there are jurisdictional issues that need to be addressed and that the federal government isn’t providing enough support.  

“I think our community members are still Ontarian's, but it certainly doesn't negate the federal government from providing health care services at our community level," she said.

Gordon also identifies ways the province can help Aboriginal seniors stay in the comfort of their own homes, such as helping identify needs in the community, helping families provide for elderly relatives, and planning for more appropriate services that could be delivered at the community level.