Nunavut struggles to care for elders closer to home

A lack of long-term care beds in Nunavut means elders are sent to residential care facilities thousands of kilometres from home.

MLA questions why elders are being sent out-of-territory for care

Premier Peter Taptuna said the territory doesn't have the money to build new long-term care facilities for elders. (Nunavut Legislative Assembly)

Rankin Inlet MLAs are calling on the premier and health minister to find solutions to care for elders closer to home instead of sending them thousands of kilometres away to residential care facilities outside of Nunavut.

There are 27 long-term care beds in Nunavut, including three designated for respite or palliative care. No facilities in the territory provide care for dementia. That means a growing number of elders are sent to residential care facilities in the south, like Embassy West in Ottawa.

"Elders establish the backbone of Nunavut culture and language and the Inuit fabric across the communities," said Rankin Inlet South's Alexander Sammurtok, quoting the government's strategy on caring for seniors.

 The MLA has fought for an elder's facility in his hometown since he was elected.

"Mr. Speaker, if it is truly the case that elders are the backbone, then can the premier explain why elders are still being sent out of their communities, away from their families, children and grandchildren, for long-term residential care?" Sammurtok asked in the Legislative Assembly.

But until there's money to build long-term care facilities for elders in Nunavut, "we still have to continually ship our elders down south for that specialized care," Premier Peter Taptuna responded. 

"We want to try to maintain our elders within Nunavut, but we do have to ensure that they're well taken care of and at this point we don't have the facilities," said Taptuna, who is also the minister responsible for advocating for seniors.

Taptuna says the government runs up "against a brick wall" when trying to find the money for projects it considers a priority.

"It's not enough to get some of these things on the move. It's very small amounts of money. It's very difficult to increase the amounts that we get from the federal government," he said.

Taptuna pointed to the new Canada Health Accord Nunavut signed in January. Nunavut will get an additional $6.1 million for home care over the next 10 years.

Nunavut looks to third-parties for help

Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Tom Sammurtok is also seeking a long-term care facility, putting questions to Health Minister George Hickes on Friday.

"We all know how long it takes to get a project on the capital plan," said Hickes.

"But if there are third parties and partners available out there that are looking at investing in infrastructure and facilities such as this, it would be something that the department would obviously look very favourably upon to provide care in the territory."

Hickes may have been referencing Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak who has been working to build an elder's facility in the city.

Tom Sammurtok says he is aware of at least seven elders who have had to leave Rankin Inlet for long-term care.

Hickes says the department works to keep elders in their own homes for as long as possible with home care visits.

If elders need to be placed in a facility, the department looks to keep them in the territory first, Hickes said. There are 27 long-term care beds split among Igloolik, Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay. There are assisted living facilities in Iqaluit, Baker Lake and Arviat.

"As a last resort we do send people out-of-territory through contract on a case-by-case basis," said Hickes.