Nunavik eyes new patient home in north-east Montreal

Mayor of local borough worried about social problems


The Nunavik health board would like patients and escorts from Nunavik to be housed in this former Chinese hospital at 7500 St. Denis Street in Montreal.

The Nunavik health board would like patients and escorts from Nunavik to be housed in this former Chinese hospital at 7500 St. Denis Street in Montreal.

The Nunavik board of regional health and social services and the Northern Quebec Module, which runs Nunavik patient services in Montreal, has proposed transforming a former Chinese hospital in the Villeray borough into a new patient residence for Nunavimmiut receiving medical treatment in the city.

The former hospital is a stolid-looking, three-storey brick building on the corner of St. Denis Street and Faillon Est, about six kilometres east and north of the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

The hospital, which belongs to Quebec’s health department, would require about $12 million in renovations to make it suitable for a patient residence. The former hospital, which operated until the late 1990s, would be accommodate 150-beds as well as a mini-cultural centre to showcase Inuit art and culture.

But the proposed move from Notre-Dame-de-Grace, where the current patient residence, Nunavik House, is located, to 7500 St. Denis is far from certain.

The health and social services agency of Montreal, representatives from the Nunavik health board and the Northern Module met May 10 in Montreal with Anie Samson, the mayor of the Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension, who told the Nunatsiaq News that she has serious concerns about the proposal to renovate the former hospital.

Samson said she already has her hands full of social problems.

Her borough is home to two of the five poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. There are more than 100 different ethnic groups in St. Michel and Park Extension, Samson said, but not in Villeray, which she described as a residential, fiercely “pure-white francophone” and separatist neighbourhood.

Villeray recently rejected proposal child care centres, she said—“they are against any change.”

For now, Villeray is her “neutral zone,” the section of her borough which takes fewer resources because the other areas of her borough have street gangs and other troubles to deal with.

“I have extremely limited resources and now I’d have another clientele to take care of. We would have to live with this new group. I don’t think we can do this well,” Samson said.

Social problems would be inevitable with the constantly changing clientele who would live at the facility— and what would have if residents were locked out due to a late arrival back or in an intoxicated state?

“People come from far away, they come into the city, where everything’s now, there’s action. It’s as if they were coming to Las Vegas! It’s natural that escorts who are with sick people would take advantage of that. It’s not a prison!”

In Samson’s opinion, the most persuasive point against renovating the hospital is its distance from the hospitals Nunavimmiut go to.

Quebec would be better putting its money into a new building attached to the McGill University’s future mega-hospital than renovating the former Chinese hospital.

“It’s possibly a lovely project, but not in the right place,” Samson said. “If we want Inuit to feel welcomed in a neighbourhood, the society around them has to ready to accept them. Where they’re planning on going, I won’t be able to control the reaction of my constituents. They may be intolerant, but if the project is imposed, I worry the project will be poorly accepted by those around it. “

The next meeting about the plans for the former hospital is slated for the end of May, Samson said.

Asked to comment on the progress of the project, a spokesperson for the Nunavik health board would not confirm if the Villeray site or any other location was being considered for the new patient residence.

“Nothing has been confirmed,” said Eric Duchesneau. “We’re in the middle of doing consultations and assessments to determine the needs of Nunavimmiut.”

Duchesneau said the health board was working closely with its Montreal counterparts to find an appropriate new location.

A regular user of Nunavik House, who knows the proposed site, said it does not offer parking and is far from downtown Montreal hospitals.

He also said any new patient residence should be able to house at least 200 beds.

“Another transit still too small for the needs of the system — it’s a great location, but a nightmare logistically for the drivers, with no adequate parking,” he said, calling the proposed location “another multimillion dollar bandaid on paper that looks good.”

Area hotels and the less-expensive YMCA are being used now for overflow patients from 55-bed Nunavik House and its neighbouring residence, the 28-bed Hampton House.

Nunavik House made headlines this past winter when a petition began circulating asking the facility be relocated from away St. Jacques Street in the southern end of NDG.

Inuit patients and their families said Nunavik House was located in a dangerous neighbourhood that exposed vulnerable people to drugs, alcohol and violence.

A petition signed by almost 200 Nunavimmiut asked that the centre be relocated.

Nunavik House opened in 2000 in what was formerly a low-end motel for immigrants at 6177 St. Jacques Street.

Due to the high cost of running smaller family-run transit houses, the health board contracted a local company to run the boarding home.

Its location was chosen originally for its proximity to the future mega-hospital- which still hasn’t been started.

The long-term lease at the current Nunavik House location expired March 31, but has been extended until the end of this year.

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