Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Ottawa July 19, 2016 - 8:29 am

Nunavut patient boarding home has room to grow in Ottawa

Larga Baffin can now accommodate up to 225 patients at a time

The new Larga Baffin location in Ottawa, down the street from it's old facility on Richmond Road, occupies a recently renovated former retirement home. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)
The new Larga Baffin location in Ottawa, down the street from it's old facility on Richmond Road, occupies a recently renovated former retirement home. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)


OTTAWA — A 25-year-old man plays guitar in the common room while several others — patients, escorts and employees — move about in the new Larga Baffin facility on Richmond Rd. in Ottawa.

A younger woman in a wheelchair sits around the corner a few metres away with an older woman, speaking in Inuktitut. She has bruises on her arm and a cast on her leg.

The young man with the guitar says he accompanied his sister to Ottawa to undergo treatment for the fractured skull and broken leg she received when her boyfriend assaulted her. He points his chin in the direction of the woman in the wheelchair.

They will be in Ottawa for two weeks, he says. It’s his first time travelling for medical reasons, he said, but Larga Baffin is comfortable and his sister is receiving the services she needs here because she can’t get them back home.

He said that if Larga Baffin didn’t exist, they would probably “just stay outside.”

Before October, Larga Baffin — the boarding home for Baffin Inuit patients who need specialized medical care in Ottawa — would often operate at full capacity. Although they would never turn patients away to “stay outside,” staff at the old building did have to accommodate patients and escorts at off-site hotel rooms at times.

“Since 2000, we were always over capacity,” said Lynn Kilabuk, president of Larga Baffin.

Larga Baffin sometimes had as many as 80 patients and escorts to set up elsewhere due to over capacity, she said.

In October 2015, the patient boarding facility moved into what used to be an old retirement home on Richmond Rd., down the street from their old location, and they haven’t had capacity issues since.

Recently renovated, the building, which numbers 102 bedrooms, can hold up to 225 patients and escorts at any given time, said Kilabuk.

Lately, Larga Baffin has been averaging about 150 people per night, and sometimes had as many as 178, she said — which is fine for now because they want to ensure there’s room to grow. And the numbers are growing.

The Government of Nunavut recently increased health travel benefits for those who need to leave the territory for treatment.

The timing couldn’t be better considering the high rates of domestic violence and cancer in Nunavut and the demands being placed on health care boarding homes outside the territory.

Alongside the Tammattaavik boarding home in Iqaluit, the GN has contracts with six patient boarding homes outside the territory — in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Yellowknife, Edmonton and Churchill.

In 2015, Larga Baffin alone counted 42,000 bed-night stays — and that was partly at their previous, smaller location. That number is higher than the entire population of Nunavut, currently pegged at 37,315.

Every room at Larga Baffin now includes a private bathroom and a few rooms are built with accessibility in mind. Some also have built-in kitchenettes for those who need longer stays. Although patients often only stay a few days, there are many who require months or even a year’s worth of long-term medical treatment not available in Nunavut.

“We try to make their stay as comfortable as possible,” Kilabuk said.

Patients will come south for everything from allergy-testing to seeing a specialist or undergoing surgery, she said/ Pregnancies, cancer treatments and assaults also draw Baffin residents south for care.

There is a non-denominational chapel room within the building, a few common rooms with televisions and small DVD collections, a nursing room, a puzzle room, A sewing room with a few donated sewing machines and even vintage furs for visitors to work on, and a self-serve buffet in the cafeteria offering many different meal options throughout the day.

There are toys and books for children, knitting supplies and small snacks and juices available between meals.

“We serve country foods purchased up north, straight from the hunters,” Kilabuk said. “And we order caribou from the West because of the moratorium in the East.”

A resident social worker serves patients and staff members alike.

One woman named Igah, who has come to Larga Baffin as an escort four times since the opening of the new facility in October, said she thinks the new building is great.

“It has what the patients need,” she said. “They don’t have rules about when to do laundry or when to go to bed, and the staff is really nice.”

As for the young man with the guitar, he said he finds Larga Baffin comfortable — and that he and his sister are as comfortable as one can be under sometimes difficult circumstances.

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