Overcrowded YK home a haven for Kitikmeot patients

Cramped quarters provide comfy care for more than 1,000 people every month


YELLOWKNIFE – There’s a lot of warmth inside Yellowknife’s Lena Pederson Boarding Home, a home away from home for patients and escorts from Nunavut’s Kitikmeot region.

This home is more comfy and inviting than other similar boarding homes for Inuit receiving medical care far from home in Ottawa or Montreal.

Maybe it’s because this boarding home is in the North or perhaps because, inside, there are lots of windows, ceilings are high, and the entire place is shiny and spotless.

The warm atmosphere is also nurtured by the good food prepared by long-time cook Louisa Aitoak, the capable welcome from assistant manager Alissa Palongayak and manager Marilyn Paradis’s love of her work.

“I’m here seven days a week. This is my home,” says Paradis, who came out of retirement five years ago to run the boarding home.

In the entrance area of the home, a space that doubles as a recreation and reception area, Alisa and Max Kameemalik are waiting for a ride to the airport. They’re heading back to Gjoa Haven.

“It’s really good,” says Kameemalik enthusiastically of his stay at the boarding home. “The food, the staff, everything.”

This positive spirit is echoed by another woman on her way home, who gives Paradis a warm hug.

Usually around 10 pregnant women are staying at the home, sometimes for a few weeks.

Every month, 1,000 people, mainly Inuit from the Kitikmeot, flow through the home.

Most who come to the home stay from five to seven days, although some are there much longer.

And it’s not always easy for them to be in Yellowknife, away from home and often sharing a room with someone from another community.

Paradis knows many of them or their families from the many years she spent running Akaitcho Hall for students boarding in Yellowknife.

The boarding home’s nine full-time and two part-time workers are Inuit or married to Inuit.

“I look for Inuit,” Paradis says. “I really believe in hiring Inuit as much as possible.”

Since she’s been at the home, Paradis has never had to advertise for employees. Sometimes her employees leave or are encouraged to seek help for problems affecting their work, but often she’ll rehire them when they’re ready to return.

“They know what I’m all about,” Paradis says.

The home has a zero tolerance policy for booze and drugs that is generally respected. If not, the RCMP is called in.

But Paradis says the home has been “very, very lucky” to have few problems.

Residents can smoke in an enclosed smoking room that’s only accessible from the home. That wasn’t always the case and, before it was closed in, people would often come off the street and hang out in the smoking area.

“We’re not a drop-in centre,” Paradis says.

Residents can have visitors from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., but the dining room is only open to those staying at the home.

In the evenings, some women go to a sewing group. Boredom can become a problem, particularly for men, Paradis says.

But there’s a jigsaw puzzle in progress on a table in the front room and two other sitting areas with TVs.

And nearly every night there’s a shopping trip to stores, although residents are on their own for cash.

Birthday celebrations and holidays also break the routine. Caribou and Arctic char, along with muktuk on special occasions, are available for anyone who wants country foods.

Residents can also receive calls from home on a toll free line, 1-866-887-8864, or chat on pay phones.

All that helps, Paradis says.

But the home is not a perfect place. It’s much too small, with only 15 rooms for a maximum of 43 patients and escorts. Usually the home is full to overflowing, with more than 10 patients sent either to a hotel or another boarding home in the city.

What the home needs, Paradis says, is a recreation room, a sound-proofed playroom for kids, a donation room for items given by the community to residents, more rooms for elders and the handicapped and a quiet room for privacy during difficult times.

She tries to save one single room for patients who need more privacy and is also putting a television in another for those with limited mobility.

However, Nunavut’s health department hasn’t wanted to expand the home because the new Kitikmeot Regional Health Centre in Cambridge Bay is expected to reduce its patient load.

But Paradis isn’t sure she agrees because the new facility won’t be doing major surgery.

“I can’t see it making a difference, although we might get fewer pregnant women coming out of Cambridge Bay,” Paradis says.

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