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Editorial: Elder-care facilities only a drop in the bucket

Staffing concerns must be addressed as well as ways for Elders to age safely at home

The issue: Elders and seniors
We say: Deserve our support

The population of Nunavut is a young one.

Nearly 90 per cent of residents – as of 2016 Statistics Canada census data – are under age 55.

According to the same dataset, that leaves us with roughly 4,000 seniors who have varying needs as far as levels of care and independence are concerned. Nunavut Bureau of Statistics states that as of July 1, 2014, the number of Nunavummiut aged 80 and over was estimated to be fewer than 150, “however this will double over the next 10 years and double again in the 10 years after that.”

It might be easy, as a fledgling territory full of young people, to overlook the trials and tribulations facing an aging demographic, but our Elders, as fundamentally important members of society, deserve our full support.

Part of this is ensuring that, when they can no longer live independently, our parents and grandparents have a place to reside that can adequately accommodate their various needs.

Nunavut has 44 long-term care beds spread among continuing care facilities and Elders homes in Iqaluit, Arviat, Cambridge Bay, Iglulik and Gjoa Haven. All those beds are full, according to the Department of Health.

An April 2015 GN report 'Continuing Care in Nunavut 2015 to 2035' states “Nunavummiut care for their frail elderly, chronically ill, or disabled family members as best they can in often crowded homes. Home care support is provided where available. However, the caregiving journey can be lengthy and demanding, particularly in cases of dementia, incontinence, or reduced mobility. At some point, it may no longer be feasible to provide care at home. When this happens, the individual is placed on the waiting list for residential long-term care. Increasingly, the person is sent to the Qikiqtani General Hospital or out of territory.”

The new long-term care homes being built in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and a yet-to-be-disclosed 24-bed facility in the Kitikmeot region are a tremendous initiative but they can't come soon enough.

Sandy Kownak, then acting executive director for the Nunavut Seniors Society, said in a February 2019 interview she’d like to see the GN institute compensation for family members who voluntarily look after their Elders.

“People end up leaving their jobs to care for Elders at home. This would supplement that gap,” said Kownak, suggesting the GN “implement a caregiving program – the NWT is doing that as we speak. They’re using that as capacity within the community.”

Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone was one of many members of the legislative assembly pleased to see the long-term care facilities going forward, but cautioned that the next step for government “and specifically Arctic College, (is) to step up and start training the support workers required to run that facility.”

It’s already hard enough to staff the territory’s health care facilities, and with a lack of support worker training programs in the territory, the infrastructure will be the least of the government’s worries.

Between family members and branches of government, great strides are being made in ensuring our Elders have the quality of life they deserve in their later years, but we must not lessen the pressure on our elected officials at all levels to also push for progress in the types of care offered.