First Nations in northwestern Ontario lack long-term care facilities — and neither the provincial nor federal government will pay for them.
The health director for Eabametoong First Nation said the elders' centre in his community closed 10 years ago due to lack of funding.
“A lot of the people didn't like that,” Robert Baxter said. “I think they still want a facility here, in our community.”
Baxter and others have been trying to get a new facility built, but are coming up empty in their search for funding.
In an email to CBC News, Health Canada said "provinces and territories are responsible ... for providing funding for higher levels of care."
But provincial health officials told CBC News that the North West Local Health Integration Network doesn't fund buildings — it only supports services.
"[It’s] just like pulling teeth when you want to get something from those people. It's very hard,” Baxter said.
Given the challenges, Baxter said he feels it's unlikely a facility will be built in this remote community.
‘Nobody can help me’
It’s not good news for Ellen Neshinapaisc, a 77-year-old living in Eabametoong First Nation.
She has lived in Eabametoong since 1964, raised five children there and spent a lot of time on her family's trap line.
"My life right now is so miserable. I can't do anything. Not like I used to back then. I get lonely. I don't know what to do,” she said. “I don't know how long I'm going to be able to do what I used to — like cleaning up. If I get sick, nobody [can] help me."
Neshinapaisc said she knows of other seniors who have had to move out of the community for long term care.
"I don't want to be like that or go out there and live out there. I want to stay here on the reserve,” she said.
“I'm always talking about getting the home care for the elders so that they can be here in their own community."
Buildings not funded
Baxter said Eabametoong’s respite centre was a place where seniors could stay when their caretakers needed a break, such as when they needed to go hunting in the summer.
"It ended up being almost like a long-term care facility after a while,” Baxter recalled.
“They just couldn't get those people out of there. They just stayed there until they passed away. I know one lady from Mishkeegogamang … I think she was there about the longest … maybe two or three years she was there, or even longer."
The home operated for about 10 years, but began to run into financial difficulties.
"Bills started piling up,” Baxter said.
“The only thing that they could do was keep paying the people's wages. Then, they finally had to shut it down."
Susan Pilatzke, a senior director with the North West Local Health Integration Network said she's heard from remote First Nation communities that are interested in building long term care facilities in their communities
But when communities express this kind of interest, the LHIN gives them this advice: "We don't fund buildings … through the LHIN mandate, we help support services."
'I think there's money somewhere.' - Felicia Sagutch, a band councillor in Eabametoong First Nation
Pilatzke said a traditional long-term care facility, similar to one found in an urban setting, wouldn't be economical in a remote community because a certain number of beds is needed to pay for around-the-clock care. She said she doesn't think there would be a need to have that many beds in a remote community.
Something ‘for the elders’
Felicia Sagutch, a band councillor in Eabametoong First Nation responsible for the community's health portfolio, said she's spoken to a number of elders who want a long-term care home in the community.
"It is unfortunate that we don't have a place for them. They passed on [away from the community],” Sagutch said.
“You know, the last message I got from one of the ladies that was in hospital was, 'Get something for the elders. It's sad to be here … to be away from family.' That's what she said. 'Work on it. Get a place for your elders. They need to be home.'"
Sagutch said she's determined to work on getting a facility, even though she knows it won't be easy to get the money.
"You never know how much support we're going to get,” she said. “That's my thoughts. Money … I think there's money somewhere. That's my feeling. There's got to be money somewhere."