The need for community care centres for elderly Nunavummiut has long been a point of division in our territorial government.

It’s not so much that regular members and cabinet are at odds on whether or not these smaller facilities would be of benefit to their communities, but rather if those community-based facilities could ever be fit into a budget and be acted on.

The plan currently in favour is still to build regional centres in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay, which has driven former Kivalliq MLA Manitok Thompson to repeatedly express frustration.

She was one of many instrumental forces behind a petition launched last fall that has now pulled in more than 22,000 signatures in favour of keeping Elders in communities when they lose the ability to live independently.

“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. “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.”

She called it a shame, and that’s the word that fits best.

According to MP Lori Idlout, Elder care facilities in the territory have been at capacity since 2017.

In November, Idlout asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Parliament to take action and invest in Nunavut’s Elders, conveying the same message as Thompson’s petition.

“Mister Speaker, our Elders in Nunavut are being exiled from their families, from their homeland and from their communities because they cannot access care in the territory,” said Idlout.

The federal budget for 2022, released on Thursday, April 7, has no such action promised.

The practice of sending Elders to out-of-territory care facilities has continued to draw ire and speculation that beloved family members are little more than a $16,000 line item on a budget.

An open letter from Pairijait Tigummiaqtikkut, the former operators of the Iqaluit Elder’s home, laid out several concerning inadequacies reported to them from residents of the Embassy West facility in Ottawa and their family members on March 3, including issues with communication, interpretation and culturally relevant care.

Health Minister John Main responded to the letter April 5, stating that Embassy West Senior Living sent the letter to its regulatory body, the Ontario Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority (RHRA), which triggered an investigation.

The result of that investigation was that there were “no findings of non-compliance related to the concerns identified by the Pairijiit Tigummiaqtikkut.”

Even if all of the near-30 concerns listed in the open letter were one-off problems, our Elders must be listened to when they say they are not comfortable or happy where they are being told it is safest for them to spend their twilight years.

Main’s response continued: “I understand many people feel strongly about increasing the availability of in-territory care options for Nunavut Elders and we are working to make that a reality. The Government of Nunavut continues to work toward expanding in-territory care options with planned facilities such as the Rankin Inlet Long-term Care Centre. We are committed to meeting the long-term care needs of Nunavut Elders and providing quality care in a culturally appropriate manner.”

The ball is in your court, Minister Main. In 2019, you warned against the potential obsolescence of regional care facilities, with the hopes the closure of Baker Lake’s care centre was not the beginning of a trend.

Home care may be able to stem the gap for now, but we must do much more to ensure our Elders can safely age in place in their communities.

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