Manitok Thompson’s voice shakes with frustration as she discusses the possibility that the 6th Legislative Assembly may not veer away from a regional approach to Elder care, a model endorsed by the previous assembly.

“I don’t think they have the will to change the plan from regional centres to smaller, three-bedroom, four-bedroom Elder care in communities,” said Thompson, who spearheaded an online petition last October that amassed 20,000 signatures in favour of keeping Elders in communities when they lose the ability to live independently.

“When they build those regional centres (in Rankin Inlet, Iqaluit and Cambridge Bay), they’re going to say we have enough (long-term care) beds, we can’t build in your communities. It’s going to shut down any ideas the communities may be thinking of.”

Thompson, a Kivalliq MLA from 1995 to 2004, said it’s feasible for municipalities to partner with the local housing organization and the GN to identify a suitable building in each community to convert into a home for Elders who do not have complex care needs.

“It seems like the deputy ministers have a lot of pull in making things happen … the government does not trust the local person or the local communities,” she said. “I’ve talked to a lot of Elders saying, you know we really thought we have Inuit politicians now, we have Inuit ministers now, something’s going to change and the Inuit mindset will be ruling. But no, it’s been a disappointment … It’s a shame. It is a shame.”

She’s also exasperated that the GN keeps promoting Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit principles but yet won’t commit to allowing Elders to age in their communities.

“They want to die in their communities,” she said, adding that she recently heard an Arviat Elder speaking of the spiritual importance of burying Inuit where they were born.

In the Legislative Assembly on March 14, Aivilik MLA Solomon Malliki inquired about creating long-term care facilities in every Nunavut community instead of just regional hubs. Health Minister John Main replied, “We currently don’t have any plans for a project along those lines.”

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Three days later, Tununiq MLA Karen Nutarak and Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Janet Brewster pressed Main on improving Elder care in communities.

Nutarak emphasized the need for home and community care to keep Elders in their own residences for as long as possible.

“Having this kind of care available for our Elders in the community, with caregivers speaking Inuktitut and being near family and friends aligns very closely with the concepts of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit,” said Nutarak. “I recognize that not every community is currently able to offer home-care services and I do appreciate that some of our Elders may have complex medical conditions and that an individual with dementia may require a higher level of care.

“However, I am concerned that for Elders who are sent away from their homes, the risks of developing complex medical issues or the onset of dementia may increase as a result of their relocation.”

Main noted that the latest statistics from his department indicate that there are 1,402 home care clients in Nunavut.

“So the demand is definitely there and the trend is up year over year in terms of the home care demand for services,” he said, adding that prior to the pandemic, the Department of Health worked with Nunavut Arctic College to deliver 10-day courses to numerous communities and “that was part of making sure that our workforce is available to deliver the services needed.”

He expressed hope that those sorts of courses may be able to resume soon with the pandemic easing.

“Elder care is much more than facilities and long-term care. There is a lot of importance around services and keeping Elders where they are the most comfortable, in their own homes, maybe next door to one of their family members,” said Main. “In that line, it’s something that I anticipate will be included as part of the development of that strategy and rightly so because it’s very important.”

Brewster’s focus was primarily on assurances that the Inuit perspective is not overlooked.

“There is no denying that the voices of our Elders and their family members are not being adequately taken into consideration with respect to Elder care,” Brewster asserted. “I strongly believe that decisions with respect to Elder care, in both an individual context and in the context of the broader population, must be informed from an Inuit perspective. I recognize the expertise of our health professionals in delivering healthcare, however we cannot exclude the importance of culture when we determine how that healthcare will be delivered.”

Brewster asked Main to ensure that the GN’s long-term Elder Care Strategy will require that Inuit cultural representatives have input in that legislation “and that their voices will be heard and reflected in the final strategy document.”

“Yes, I can commit to that,” Main replied, adding that Elder care involves other government departments as it also pertains to “purpose-built housing, prevention of Elder abuse, cultural considerations and benefits for low-income seniors.”

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