Medical problems can be scary, particularly as we get older and especially in remote parts of the country like the Beaufort Delta where emergencies usually require a trip to Edmonton for treatment.
This only complicates matters, as many people are not used to, or prepared for, the crowded chaotic streets of the big city, making the whole process quite daunting. And if you happen to have mobility or other health issues, it can be overwhelming.
Enter Larga House, a joint venture by the Gwich’in Development Corporation, Nunatsiaq Corporation and Kitikmeot Corporation, to provide Elders and Northerners with as many comforts as they can while staying down south.
”There’s some some Elders that are well versed … and quite comfortable coming to the city,” said general manager Jenn Wilkinson. “And then there’s some that may be a bit more anxious. If they require more assistance, or they just want to talk to people more, we’re here to take care of them.
“We pick up at the airport, we bring them here and get them accommodated and settled. We also take them to all of their appointments, pick them up from appointments and make sure that they’re comfortable. Maybe they don’t have equipment with them to travel, maybe they need a walker or wheelchair — we would provide that, make sure that we have that available for them as well.”
Located a short walk away from the Royal Alexandria Hospital in downtown Edmonton, Larga House aims to be a home away from home for Northerners.
It also allows many who have moved south for work, education or other opportunities to keep in touch with their roots. Some staff have been working at the facility for up to 30 years. Many have family connections with guests from up North.
”You can often hear staff on the phone saying things like ‘I love you too,’ — it’s very meaningful for people,” said Wilkinson. “But not only that, people will see other people that they grew up with in other communities. So you’ll see guests connect and they’ll say things like ‘I haven’t seen you since I was a little girl.’ I think that’s pretty cool.”
Sporting an elevator, a fully staffed kitchen providing free breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, a prayer room and kitchenettes for those who would like to cook for themselves, there is room for up to 56 people at any time in the building.
Wilkinson said on average of 400 to 600 guests a month, and that was steadily increasing.
Because of the close connection staff have with their guests, Wilkinson said the staff of Larga House were happy to go the extra mile to assist guests. From picking patients up at the airport to helping Elders with mobility issues around the city to getting emergency items ranging from toothbrushes to medication, the services offered to those in need are endless. Guests are given a survey at the end of their stay to provide feedback on what they liked and what can be improved, and Wilkinson said guests can raise concerns with staff at any time.
Making the medical travel experience a more friendly experience with familiar faces also provides emotional support for guests, noted Wilkinson, as many Elders who come down get a chance to see old friends and relatives they may not have seen for some time.
“If you talk to a majority of staff that work here, a lot of them will say they’ve come here for this reason, because they want to provide services to people from home,” she added. “It absolutely makes a difference for somebody’s grandma, grandpa, uncle, aunt, sister or brother. I think people feel more appreciated being provided services by people that they know from their communities.
“These hospitals have more people in them in than in some communities, at least some that I’ve lived in. So it’s really overwhelming. I think when guests see people from home they know they’re going to be looked after and be cared for. People here understand.”