North

Cree elders less isolated with move to Red Cross emergency shelter

A fire in September at a multi-service day centre where the elders were living forced a relocation to hospital. The repairs to their residence are expected to take four months.

Banquet hall space allows for more freedom and better COVID-19 protection

Jason Coonishish (left), coordinator of pre-hospital and emergency measures for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, and Breanne Jury, an international logistics manager with the Canadian Red Cross, stand at the site of an Emergency Response Unit set up to receive elders Thursday in Chisasibi, Que. (CBHSSJB/Jason Coonishish)

The Cree health board has teamed up with the Canadian Red Cross to build a temporary elders home — or Emergency Response Unit (ERU) — in a banquet hall in Chisasibi, Que.

The hope is the ERU will give 12 elders back their freedom and quality of life, but also keep them safe from the risks of COVID-19.

The elders have been living under COVID-19 restrictions at the local hospital since September, after a kitchen fire at the residence where they were living forced a relocation.  

Those restrictions mean in part that the elders are limited in the activities they can take part in, according to Jason Coonishish, coordinator of pre-hospital and emergency measures for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB). 

It's better living conditions.- Jason Coonishish, CBHSSJB

He said the ERU in the banquet hall, in what is known as the Mitchuap building, will be a much better place for the elders.

"It's better living conditions...and they will have more community inclusion," said Coonishish. He added that having the elders live in the ERU also means their risk of infection will be reduced and needed space at the hospital will freed up. 

An overhead view of the Red Cross Emergency Response Unit being set up at the Mitchuap building banquet hall in Chisasibi, Que. Cree elders will be moved there Thursday. (Daniel Rodrique (CNC))

Coonishish said the banquet hall was chosen because of its location, natural lighting and proximity to supports like a kitchen, as well as safety reasons. 

The smoke and water repairs to the elders residence at the community's Nanaahkuu Wiichihiiweukamikw, or Multi-Service Day Centre, will take at least four months, according to Coonishish. 

That is why the CBHSSJB called in the Canadian Red Cross, according to Breanne Jury, an International logistics manager with the Red Cross, who has been reassigned to Canadian projects due to the pandemic. 

An initial needs assessment was done in early October. 

"We've taken pieces from our Emergency Response Unit and catered it to the direct needs here on the ground right now," said Jury, adding multiple local stakeholders have been involved from the Cree health board, nurses and staff that will be working in the environment, and the Cree Nation of Chisasibi as well. 

The temporary elders home is funded by the CBHSSJB. The equipment is being acquired as part of an overall goal of providing Chisasibi with what is needed to have mobile field hospital capability.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Red Cross has been working in partnership with Indigenous Services Canada to help First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities prepare for and respond to COVID-19. 

Cree health board and Canadian Red Cross employees prepare to build a temporary elders home to house 12 elders currently living under COVID-19 restrictions at the Chisasibi hospital. (Catherine Rhéaume-Provost (CNC))

The relationship between the CBHSSJB and the Canadian Red Cross began in 2017, when the organization started supporting Cree communities to improve emergency preparedness, among other programs.

The plan is to move the elders in the facility on Thursday.

"We've taken pieces from our Emergency Response Unit and catered it to the direct needs here on the ground right now," said Breanne Jury of the Canadian Red Cross. (CBHSSJB/ Jason Coonishish)

Clarifications

  • This story has been updated to clarify the fact that elders at the hospital have been allowed visitors.
    Oct 22, 2020 10:46 AM CT

With files from Jamie Little

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