Petition to keep elders in Nunavut nears 22,000 signatures

‘Cutting that link is quite detrimental to keeping our culture thriving,’ Nunavut MP Lori Idlout says about taking elders out of communities

Baker Lake residents are seen in October rallying to have the Martha Taluriq elder care centre, which closed in 2018, reopened. (Photo by Craig Simailak/Twitter)

By Mélanie Ritchot

A petition to make 24-hour elder care available in each Nunavut community has received more than 21,800 signatures in one month.

Between names collected online and on paper across the territory, Manitok Thompson, one of the organizers, said the message is loud and clear — Nunavummiut don’t want their elders sent south to spend the last years of their lives away from home.

“They end up dying alone without any of their family with them,” she said.

Thompson, who lives in Ottawa, said she regularly visits some of the approximately 43 elders staying at Embassy West Senior Living in Ottawa.

“‘I’m homesick, I want to go home now, I want to go home now,’ is what I hear every time I go there,” Thompson said. “Then they start crying.”

She said she has cried with and hugged family members who had to leave loved ones at Embassy West.

There are currently elder care centres in Cambridge Bay, Igloolik and Gjoa Haven with a total of 28 beds. There are also two assisted living homes with eight beds each in Nunavut: one in Arviat and another in Iqaluit.

Elders with dementia and other complex care needs are sent outside of the territory.

Thompson said for patients with dementia especially, having access to familiar things like country food is important.

“I had one lady calling me who said her mother hadn’t eaten for days because she’s tired of the southern food,” she said.

Not being able to communicate with staff in Inuktitut is another issue.

In 2021, three full-time interpreters worked at Embassy West, while no Inuktitut-speaking recreation employees were on staff, according to Health Minister Lorne Kusugak in a written response provided to former MLA Pat Angnakak in June.

The Government of Nunavut has already announced plans to build new elder care facilities in the three regions of the territory, with one slated for Rankin Inlet, another for Cambridge Bay, and a third in Iqaluit.

But Thompson said this still means many elders would have to leave their home communities for care.

“People have made it very clear that they would like something in [each of] their communities,” she said, adding this would also create local jobs.

“Even if it’s four beds, that would prevent four people from leaving their community.”

To do this, Thompson suggests the GN renovates or converts existing buildings to accommodate elders.

“I’m hoping the new government will think outside the box and do something to address this issue quickly.”

In 2020-21, the GN paid $6.3 million to care for elders at Embassy West in Ottawa, according to Kusugak’s written response to Angnakak in June.

The average cost per Nunavut elder to stay at the facility this year is $15,690.83, according to the same document — more than double the cost listed in 2016.

In Baker Lake, residents have been trying to have their elder care facility reopened for years. The Martha Taliruq Centre closed in 2018 because of issues with the building and the society operating the centre.

A year ago, in October 2020, then-health minister George Hickes said in the legislative assembly it would have cost more to renovate the old facility than build a new one.

Just last month, in October 2021, residents rallied outside of the closed building to reopen it, according to a tweet posted by Simailak.

Alexander Sammurtok, the new MLA for Rankin Inlet North and Chesterfield Inlet, petitioned for in-territory elder care during his first term as MLA in 2014, including the new 24-bed facility that will be built in Rankin Inlet for the Kivalliq region.

In an interview, he said people he’s talked to in his constituency are happy it’s going to be built.

“It would be great to have one in every community, but the Government of Nunavut doesn’t have the resources or the money to make this dream come true,” he said.

Lori Idlout, Nunavut’s MP, helped collect signatures for the petition in Iqaluit over the weekend and said during her campaign, keeping elders in Nunavut was a concern she heard often from Nunavummiut.

“I’m determined to make sure the lack of long-term care in Nunavut is recognized by the federal government,” she said.

With this falling under the GN’s responsibilities, Idlout said she hopes to work with Nunavut’s government to make sure it and herself are both applying pressure to the federal government to help keep elders in Nunavut.

She said elders leaving the territory doesn’t only affect them negatively, but entire communities and generations, because elders are the reason Inuit still have their culture, language, worldview and traditional knowledge.

“Cutting that link is quite detrimental to keeping our culture thriving,” Idlout said.

Thompson said the plan is to have the petition tabled in the legislative assembly when the recently elected MLAs come together for a sitting starting Nov. 19.

Then, the goal is to have a special committee created specifically for elder care.

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(21) Comments:

  1. Posted by Uvanga on

    Nunavut Arctic College, where are the LPN programs? Only a two year course and inuit can work as a Licensed Practical Nurse in these facilities that are slated to come. Time is ticking. And what about the Medical Terminology courses? Where is Inuinnaqtun 101 classes for all these southerners that come up to work? Where is the alignment of goals between departments? Politicians….nauk?

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  2. Posted by Elder Tumasie on

    To the new MLA’s think carefully who you put in Cabinet and Premier in the New Government.The old cabinet just thought about their ridings for Elder care – Regional centres – The Ministers who were in the last Government didn’t think of the other communities. The previous Premier have one in his town, Lorne just looked out for Rankin, Hicks for Iqaluit and Ehaloak for Cambridge Bay. The same thing will happen with those 3 guys in Cabinet.

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    • Posted by Arnold McGillicuddy on

      That’s the problem right there, every single MLA looks out for their own community and voted against a new facility if it wasn’t going to be located in their town.
      Every MLA had that attitude, not just cabinet and the those who think like ‘Elder Tumasie’ are preventing any new facilities whatsoever!
      There were 22 MLAs who all advocated for themselves. Until you can get people to recognize that we can’t build a new facility in each and every community at the same time, we will continue to get nowhere.
      Work together!!! I hope this new crop of MLAs are different than ‘Elder Tumasie’ because this attitude of ME FIRST and IF I DON’T GET IT THEN NO ONE WILL is preventing ANY elders from staying in Nunavut for compassionate care because we can’t agree on anything.
      Keep fighting for only yourself and your community and we will see how far we get in 4 years.
      Elders deserve a dignified and compassionate retirement in Nunavut. If you are from Gjoa Haven for example, it’s still better to live out your last years in Cambridge Bay than Ottawa…

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      • Posted by Elder on

        What a succinct regurgitation of arguments put forward by the lack lustre leadership of the last government. That by advocating for their communities elders,,, our leaders are being selfish or irresponsible. As if.

        Focussing on the needs of the three regional centres and always building infrastructure there is the default position of GN. Taking the minister of the days opinion as gospel and running off without a proper plan in place is also the default unfortunately.

        Hopefully the next group of elected MLA’s will learn from the mistakes of the past four years and put in place a cabinet willing to do the job properly. A cabinet that takes seriously the concerns brought to them, and does not dismiss them with lazy accusations of not caring about elders.

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  3. Posted by Yup on

    Start at the 3 Regional Hubs, work your way into the communities afterwards. the first thing is to get them home and making 3 big elders centers can get them home. at least they will be a flight away and the cost of visiting them would be cheaper and would mean more frequent.

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    • Posted by Elder on

      start with the purchase of an elders facility in ottawa, etc. while the ones are being built in the Arctic. we need proper care and consistency and understanding. GN pays SO much but the level of care is EQUAL to the next door room that is paying a quarter or LESS. Have some rooms used for visitors on rotation to be with family a few times a year.

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  4. Posted by Oh Ima on

    If it affected 15% of the population of Nunavut something would have been done right away!

  5. Posted by Qablunaaq on

    It was super-predictable that the GN was going to put elders’ facilities in the 3 hubs.
    .
    For all the talk of decentralization and capacity building, it sure does seem like everything that is built is in the hubs and everyone that staffs the new buildings is from the south.

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    • Posted by Elder Tumasie on

      I agree with building in the non decentralize communities instead off the regional hubs. Jobs are needed in all communities and these jobs for elder care can be jobs needed now in the communities outside the hubs.
      Each community has a wildlife office building, why not a 3/4 bedroom homecare for elders ? Elders are more important than wildlife.
      Why should the Regional Centers be priority for any building?? or jobs?

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      • Posted by Paul on

        I think it would be better to build in communities that are larger, that way more elders will be closer to family as the larger communities have more elders. It would be good to have smaller centres in the smaller towns.

  6. Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

    There are certainly lots of good ideas and in particular, having a long term care facility in each community,
    And the concept of a facility in each of the main regional hubs and each year working outwards to the smaller communities would be a desirable option.
    The one hindrance, as I see it though, is required medical support. Doctors, nurses, and aides need to be readily available to support the patients in these homes, Considering the problems we have today with a shortage of medical staff for the health centers, I think the staffing and training for these positions need to be a priority.
    Then of course is the issue of housing availability for these staff.
    Sounds depressing and a case of giving up, but that is not my point.
    We need to START somewhere and I don’t think building centers today is the starting point.
    We aren’t going to find staff, even from the south, today.
    We need to get our kids into school and into these medical studies to fill the positions, Our kids, who should include Inuktut in their educational requirements. Kids who are committed to having the best for Nunavut.

    Interesting that for a person to stay at Embassy West was more than $15k but no mention of the same cost to stay at any of the centers here in Nunavut.
    From experience, I know that, excluding medical staff, it was approximately $100k per person in Iqaluit.

    Where does that put our elders who are living in the south today? Not coming home in the immediate future. Sure 3 or 4 but who is going to decide which ones?
    Right now some who are aware are feeling lonely and wanting to come home and I understand that. But, right now, they are safe and getting the immediate medical attention they require,

    Let’s get the immediate attention directed to educating our future so that elders won’t have to move away.

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    • Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

      I should also add, that there are SOME family homes that can accommodate an elderly person who wishes to remain in the family and community atmosphere.

      There are many additional costs related to caring for an elder though, Thought needs to be given to providing financial as well as professional support to these families who are willing to provide this invaluable service. Certainly, it places the elder in a more teneble situation than being in a elder’s facility.

  7. Posted by Elder Tumasie on

    Good comments. If the regional centres get build, the other communities will not matter any more. In my small community, an elder lady wants to stay home. She wants to die at home. Maybe with decentralization idea of a Government, they should build in the smaller communities instead of the Regional Centers. Why does the plan have to be with the Regional Centers? Hockey arena’s were built in each community even the small communities like mine have an arena. Is the Elder’s care home with 4 beds not as important? Some families are looking after their dementia elders without medical training right now because they don’t want their elders to leave home.
    Paul, there are already trained elder care inuit in each town. These just need a few more workshops to do 24/7 care in their communities. Don’t build in regional centres, build in the non decentralized communities.

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    • Posted by Cambaymiut on

      And for the elders already in regional centers who also need places? Or do they not count?

  8. Posted by Iqaluit Mom on

    Have the Elders who were sent South due to a Covid outbreak in the Iqaluit Elders’ facility been brought home yet?

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      • Posted by Bring our elders home on

        The Minister of Health should be paying for our elders to come back home.

  9. Posted by Why u dum on

    Let’s just all move to Ottawa and be close to the elders

  10. Posted by No matter on

    Everyone has an opinion when they are not in charge. It would be nice if people we’re not delusional. Asking ain’t getting, when will NU residents realize that? Facilities and the costs are in the millions, I suppose NU residents are too comfortable with Government handouts

  11. Posted by Kanayuq on

    Our Elders who gave so much of their skilled knowledge, who shared their experiences on land, water, weather, wildlife and family staying together but and far most is LOVE for their families, relatives, friends and communities. We need them to stay home, they survived our Harsh weather. Government of Nunavut Legislative – TAKE ACTION!!! You know BETTER!!!

  12. Posted by Anne Crawford on

    All of these positions have some value.
    And this discussion needs to take place in public, so that we are all accountable for the decisions.
    The petition organizers are calling for a Special Committee on Elder Care to be formed during this Assembly so that witnesses can be call, current decision makers can explain their information and logic and communities can express their desires.

    Elders are huge assets to our communities and they should not be exiled – but we will need to re-focus housing, training and resources to plan for their return. Complex but not impossible. We will all benefit if we accept this challenge, avoid jumping to conclusions, and are prepared to take listen and then take action in communities across Nunavut.

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