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Ontario turns attention to aging Aboriginal seniors

The Ontario government says it's working closely with First Nations to find ways to serve Aboriginal seniors in remote communities.

Health Minister Deb Matthew, Chiefs of Ontario to meet in new year

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews said she will meet with Aboriginal leaders to discuss how to provide long-term care for seniors living in First Nation communities. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The Ontario government says it's working closely with First Nations to find ways to serve Aboriginal seniors in remote communities.

Health Minister Deb Matthews told CBC News that she plans to meet with the Chiefs of Ontario in the new year after the topic of long-term care came up at a recent meeting.

These new discussions come six years after the province first launched its Aging At Home strategy, a program that aims to provide home care and support services for seniors who want to remain in their communities.

“We had some big issues we had to solve. We didn't have enough doctors. We had crumbling infrastructure,” Matthews said. “Now we're able to really focus on things that we simply couldn't before, because we were focused on really keeping our system functioning.”

The province supports four long-term care homes in First Nation communities in southern Ontario, but there are no such facilities in remote northern Ontario communities.

Creating models for care

Matthews admits that providing long-term care in remote northern areas is not the same as providing care in the south — for example, seniors in northern Ontario's remote regions often live in crowded homes without indoor plumbing.

She says that models for providing care need to be tailored to the specific kinds of communities.

"The long-term care homes on reserve in [southern Ontario] tend to have around 60 people in them,” she said. “That's not a reasonable number in the more remote communities. So if there are only 1,000 people living [on the reserve], you need to have a different model."

One solution to the lack of services in remote communities, Matthews suggests, is training more First Nations members as health care providers.

"They will be able to deliver that culturally appropriate care so much more naturally than someone who's been trained to do that  almost as a second language  later in life," she said.

Matthews says providing long-term care services in remote First Nation communities would cost the government less than not providing that care.

"There's no question that the federal government has fiduciary responsibilities for people who live on reserve,” she said. “Having said that, the province supports that work as well."

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