Thunder Bay

Residential school survivor fears being institutionalized far from home under Ontario's new LTC rules

A residential school survivor in Sioux Lookout says he fears that amendments to the province’s Fixing Long-Term Care Act will result in him being shipped to another institution far from home. 

Garnet Angeconeb says he's afraid of being taken from his family — just like when he was a child

Garnet Angeconeb said the province needs to meet with northerners who are waiting for long-term care to talk about solutions that might work in the northwest. (Submitted by Garnet Angeconeb)

A residential school survivor in northwestern Ontario says he fears changes to provincial legislation will have him sent far from home for medical care.

Garnet Angeconeb lives with Kennedy's disease, a rare neuromuscular disorder that causes progressive weakening of the muscles, and is on the waiting list for long-term care in Sioux Lookout, where he is a patient at the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre.

Sioux Lookout is about 400 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.

"I feel close to home here, and this is where I want to be, where my family and my grandchildren are," he said. "But with this legislation, I don't know. I may be forced to move out, which I really, really don't want to."

Ontario's Progressive Conservative government used its majority last month to pass Bill 7, controversial legislation that could force hospital patients awaiting long-term care to nursing homes not of their choosing on a temporary basis.

The government has faced criticism over the vague wording of the legislation, and that it opted not to send the draft bill to committee — meaning no public feedback was gathered before it was passed. None of the opposition parties supported the bill.

Though the changes stop short of allowing the physical transfer of a patient against their will, critics have warned that patients who refuse to move could be billed for their subsequent time in hospital.

Angeconeb has written to the premier and the ministers of health and long-term care to protest. 

"This is cruel legislation for the alternative level of care patients with whom I see every day here," he wrote in the letter. 

"Having been 'institutionalized' as a child through the Residential School system, it seems like I've been through a vicious cycle," he wrote in the letter. "As a child, I was taken away from my parents, loved ones and my community. And now with this legislation, I could be taken away from my family, children, grandchildren and my community — full circle." 

Government promises to take Indigenous preference into account

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Long-Term Care told CBC News that Home and Community Care Support Services (HCCSS) placement coordinators consider a wide variety of criteria in deciding where to place those needing care.

"This means an Indigenous patient's religious, linguistic and cultural preferences will be taken into account, as well as proximity to loved ones," Jake Roseman said.

The government, he added, is spending $6.4 billion to build 30,000 net-new long-term care beds and 28,000 upgraded beds. 

"These beds will add capacity to areas of the province with significant demand, address the growing needs of diverse groups, including Indigenous communities, and promote campuses of care to better address the specialized needs of residents," he said. 

Ontario Long-term Care Minister Paul Calandra stands in the legislature at Queen's Park in November 2021. His party used its majority to pass the controversial Bill 7, which could see some patients moved from hospitals to long-term cares homes not of their choosing. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

When it comes to caring for those who can't care for themselves, what works in southern Ontario doesn't necessarily work in northern Ontario, Angeconeb said. 

While communities in the south are close to one another, northerners must already fly from remote communities to seek care. 

"If they're asked to move to another long-term care facility outside of Sioux Lookout, that's an added pressure. That's an added stress on them," he said. 

Angeconeb had not previously felt pressured to leave the hospital, he said. But he worries what will happen now under the new legislation.

He's calling on the province to meet with patients like him to discuss solutions that work in northern Ontario. 

"I think I would be able to live at home if I had additional services here where I live," he said. "But that's also very limited." 

Kiiwetinoong NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa on Tuesday called on the government to abandon its plans to send elders to long-term care homes they don't want to go to without their consent. 

In a news release, Mamakwa said it's wrong for the government to put elders in a position where they have to relive the trauma of forced institutionalization again if they are moved without full consent.

NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa speaks in Queen's Park during Question Period in March 2022. He says the government's Bill 7 has echoes of the residential school system. (Legislative Assembly of Ontario)

Though the province has promised to bolster Ontario's stock of long-term care beds, Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance said the community is still waiting on beds that were promised in 2018. 

The original plans for the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre, which was built in 2010, called for the facility to have a 96 long-term care beds. Those plans were scaled back to its current 20 beds to reduce costs. 

The municipality has been advocating to add the additional beds ever since, he added. 

Lawrance said there has been no progress in delivering those beds four years after they were announced. He most recently raised the issue with Paul Calandra, the province's long-term care minister, during a meeting in Ottawa last month. 

"We ... walked away with nothing," he said. 

Meanwhile, around 27 of the 55 acute care beds at the Meno Ya Win Health Centre are occupied by alternative level of care patients, and the wait list for local long-term care beds is around two to four years, he said. 

Lawrance estimated that around 85 per cent of the patients at the hospital are Indigenous. 

The chief of Lac Seul First Nation — Angeconeb's home community — said he hopes the government will move on the new beds soon.

Lac Seul First Nation Chief Clifford Bull said he is concerned for elders like his mother, who felt lonely living away from home while waiting for long-term care. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Chief Clifford Bull said he's willing to speak with any potential partner in the interest of getting it done. 

Bull's mother was cared for at the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre until she died, he said. 

"I know it's a place that she felt very lonely, and I couldn't imagine how others would feel, particularly from the north, if they were to go to Fort Frances and Thunder Bay and be forced to go to these far off places," Bull said.

"It's very hard on people to travel with COVID-19, and particularly gas prices being so high and the cost of living, it can be very difficult for families to meet with their loved ones far away."

Bull has contemplated putting in a proposal for long-term care beds on behalf of First Nations or partnering with Sioux Lookout, he said.

He's also considered bringing back the four-party agreement that led to the creation of the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre.

"I think if we put our heads together and we come together as partners, [Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority], Meno Ya Win, the First Nations, the chiefs and communities and, if we work together, much like what we did with the Meno Ya Win hospital, great things can be achieved, he said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather Kitching reports on northwestern Ontario for CBC Thunder Bay. You can reach her at heather.kitching@cbc.ca.

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