Another urban Inuk tossed aside?

Health board leaves Charlie Adams’ wife homeless while visiting severely injured husband


If you’re a beneficiary of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and live in Nunavik, you don’t usually worry about getting decent treatment for you and your family if you end up in hospital in Montreal.

But the system is of little comfort to Elsie Adams, who can’t stay at the Nunavik House patient home in Montreal while Charlie Adams, her husband and one of Nunavik’s best-known singers and recording artists, lies in Montreal General Hospital with tubes and pins holding his abdomen together.

The reason? Charlie, who’s from Kuujjuaq, was living in Montreal, not Nunavik, when he was injured. Neither he nor his family are entitled to Nunavik health services.

Charlie and his sweet but haunting country-rock sound are known throughout the North. A pioneer in the development of recorded Inuktitut pop music, he was a headline performer at CBC’s first True North concert in 1980, and his music has been recorded many times by CBC and others.

For the past several months, Charlie, now homeless, has been living rough on the streets of Montreal. Three weeks ago, a vehicle backed over him as he lay sleeping in an alley and nearly killed him.

“I was lying there sleeping. The first wheel passed over me and I started yelling to the guy because I’m in pain and all that, and the second wheel stopped right on top of my stomach,” Charlie said in an interview from his hospital bed in Montreal. “The first wheel broke my pelvis, and my intestines went out through my rectum and my stomach.”

He remembers lying there screaming for about 15 minutes as the driver kept on talking on a cell phone.

“He heard the bump and me yelling, but he didn’t move it. He heard me, but he was on the phone,” Charlie said. “Somebody else called 911.”

Police and an ambulance finally arrived. No charges were laid, Charlie says, because the driver never left the scene.

“My eyes almost popped out. When they lifted the car off me, I passed out. Then I woke up in the hospital.”

Although Nunavik patient services paid for Elsie to fly from Kuujjuaq to Montreal to be by her husband’s side, she was told soon after to leave Nunavik House and return to Nunavik.

Instead, Elsie chose to stay in Montreal to comfort her husband — even if it means living homeless.

Until being called by Nunatsiaq News last week, Ginette Taillon, coordinator of the Northern Module, which provides patient services to Nunavimmiut in Montreal, said she thought Elsie had returned to Nunavik.

“Normally, we shouldn’t have had her join her husband,” Taillon said.

But Taillon said Elsie was given food and bus vouchers, and made her own decision. “She didn’t want to go. That’s her choice. To say, she’s homeless, well, she was able to see and be with her husband, whom she hadn’t seen for months.”

Lynn Spark, a social worker with the Northern Module, said Nunavik House makes exceptions, but has been “chronically overloaded” for months, obliged to house patients and escorts in hotels and boarding homes.

Part of this is due to the exodus of long-time, experienced physicians from Kuujjuaq this summer, which has left this community with a stock of new or temporary doctors.

Up to 35 pregnant women from Ungava Bay coast communities are in Montreal awaiting delivery of their babies due to a shortage of doctors.

Spark said Nunavik House is extremely “accommodating” and “flexible” and never turns people away without somewhere else to go.

But she said Nunavik House is only for patients who are Nunavik residents.

“Somebody who comes down on their own, or is living in Montreal, or somebody who is living in Val d’Or, no,” Spark said.

But Charlie says he wasn’t the one who made the mistake that brought Elsie to Montreal, and now he’s upset because Nunavik House won’t let his wife stay there while he mends. After being homeless himself, Charlie now sees his wife fending for herself in the the same city.

“I thought my wife had a right to stay at Nunavik House, just as much as anybody,” Charlie said. “During the day, she wants to be here. She helps me. She doesn’t want to go up North with me here with these kinds of injuries. No one would want to.”

Now, the singer of Nunavik’s beloved and upbeat song “Quviasuppunga,” or “I’m Happy,” faces more serious surgery, and won’t even begin learning to walk again for at least another month. He’s eager to return to Nunavik and continue his rehabilitation at Puvirnituq’s Inuulitsivik Hospital.

“I just want to move away from Montreal now. It’s dangerous here without a place.

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