North

Iqaluit's medical boarding home runs 30 per cent over capacity, health minister says

Nunavut's Health Minister George Hickes said that Tammaativvik Boarding Home typically runs at 30 per cent over capacity and often resorts to using hotel rooms or billeting patients in people’s homes, so they can have a bed.

Non-medical escorts for pregnant women are adding to the demand for rooms

The Tammaativvik Medical Boarding Home has 90 beds, and faces a capacity crunch. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

Twice in the past month, Leah Kooneeliusie has been left wondering where she'll spend the night in Iqaluit after receiving hospital care.

In May, the 79-year-old was medevaced to the Qikiqtani General Hospital from Qikiqtarjuaq and stayed a week in care, before being released to Iqaluit's medical boarding home.

But the Tammaativvik Medical Boarding Home was full and didn't have a room for her. When the home looked for hotels to accommodate its overflow, the hotels were also full, she says.
Leah Kooneeliusie says being unsure where she will spend the night after medical treatment is not a good feeling. (Submitted by Kathy Kooneeliusie)

Her granddaughter was in town for meetings, so Kooneeliusie bunked with her, but she's not sure where she would have stayed if her granddaughter had not been in Iqaluit.

On June 1, she was again in Iqaluit for treatment and says she spent the day in Tammaativvik's common room, waiting while staff figured out where she would sleep.

She says the home treats patients well, picking them up from the airport and feeding them, but the uncertainty of where they will be spending the night is not a good feeling.

Kooneeliusie says the recent policy change by the federal government to allow pregnant women to travel with an escort is pushing the capacity issues to a breaking point.

She suggests a separate home could be built for pregnant women and their escorts, while Tammaativvik could continue to cater to the elderly and disabled.

Tammaativvik runs 30 per cent over capacity

Nunavut Health Minister George Hickes confirmed in the Legislature on May 31 that cases like Kooneeliusie's are not uncommon.

Hickes said that Tammaativvik typically runs at 30 per cent over capacity and often resorts to using hotel rooms or billeting patients in people's homes, so they can have a bed.

"I have also heard concerns of even when people are in hotels, they may even have to change hotels or change rooms partway through their stay due to bookings," he said.

Hickes was responding to questions from the representative for Quttiktuq, MLA Isaac Shooyook, who says he was worried these overflow stopgaps were costing the government more than implementing a longterm solution.
Nunavut Minister of Health Georges Hickes responded to questions on Tammaativvik's over-capacity problem in the legislature on May 31. (Vincent Robinet/CBC)

"It's a real problem, especially with older people or those with physical disabilities sleeping on the floor because of lack of space," Shooyook said in Inuktitut in the Legislature.

Hickes agreed there was limited room availability for people with mobility issues.

The Government of Nunavut does not own the Tammaativvik boarding home, it receives money from Health Canada to cover costs and contracts out management of the home. 

It's a real problem, especially with older people or those with physical disabilities sleeping on the floor because of lack of space.- MLA  Isaac  Shooyook

For this reason, Hickes says he's in constant conversation with the building's owners and management about possible fixes.

"There is a lack of space in Iqaluit, so it is not an overnight solution that we can find," Hickes said. "We do have challenges with the new announcement by the federal government of NIHB funding escort travel for maternity travel." 

In April, Health Canada altered the Non-Insured Health Benefits for Inuit and First Nations, allowing women to bring someone with them when they travel from communities to give birth.

Though he is in discussion about how to expand boarding home infrastructure in Iqaluit, Hickes says there isn't a plan in place for the Department of Health to build a new boarding home yet.

With files from Lissie Anaviapik