Stranded in Rankin Inlet, woman and son spend night in sea can
Jean Pudnak, from Baker Lake, is calling for a medical boarding home to be constructed in Rankin Inlet
After having to sleep overnight in an airline’s sea can, Jean Pudnak is calling for a medical boarding home to be opened in Rankin Inlet.
The Baker Lake resident travelled to Rankin Inlet for her son’s appointment with an orthodontist on Oct. 26. But what was supposed to be a day trip became an overnight stay when Calm Air announced its aircraft required unscheduled maintenance.
Pudnak said airline agents suggested passengers affected by the delay either remain in the terminal, where there is access to a washroom, or stay overnight in sea cans operated by the airline that are “a little more comfortable than the steel benches at the terminal.”
“There were no more hotel rooms,” she said. “All the hotels were booked.”
Pudnak chose the sea can along with her 14-year-old son and two other members from her community.
But, she said, no medical travellers — especially elders and people with disabilities — should have to experience what she did.
“I thought of people who can’t walk far, and elders. How are they going to get to the washroom if they end up staying in the sea can?” she told Nunatsiaq News, explaining the sea cans were not equipped with washrooms and the nearest ones were in the airport terminal.
“We also had an elder cancer patient and I called the hospital for the cancer patient. There was no answer at the hospital, there was just a voicemail … It was not only frustrating for the rest of us, but even more frustrating for cancer patients to be left out.”
Pudnak said Rankin Inlet taxis do not run late in the night or in the early mornings. So while Calm Air provided vouchers for breakfast, she and her son had no way to get to the place where breakfast is served before boarding their flight the next morning.
Some travellers have family in the community, and sometimes residents will open their doors to travellers or offer rides to the airport.
Regardless, Pudnak said the territorial government needs to find better ways to support Inuit who are travelling to receive care.
“Are people going to think of this, and MLAs — are they going to think of this?” she said. “And our mayors — they better think and help us right away.”
Nunavut Health Minister John Main said his department is aware of Nunavummiut like Pudnak who face challenges while travelling for medical care.
“In terms of weather delays and mechanical issues that leave people stranded without proper accommodations in Rankin Inlet or elsewhere, that’s a concern for the department,” he said.
“When people are travelling, we want to see them properly accommodated.”
But while the possibility of a medical boarding home has been explored in the past, Main said currently “there’s not enough traffic or not enough need to justify boarding homes in Rankin Inlet or Cambridge Bay.”
For those experiencing accommodation challenges, he suggested contacting medical travel staff and the government’s Office of Patient Relations.
Pudnak said placing a medical boarding home in Rankin Inlet would help ensure a safer and better stay for medical travellers, many of whom are older or live with a disability.
A representative of Calm Air was not available for comment Monday afternoon.