‘The whole system falls apart’: Nunavut group concerned about Ottawa care home

Pairijait Tigumivik Society has long list of concerns it wants addressed at Embassy West Senior Living

An inukshuk outside Embassy West Senior Living in Ottawa. Photo: EWSL Facebook page

A group representing Nunavut elders says a seniors home in Ottawa is failing Inuit who are sent there.

In a March 7 letter to Nunavut Health Minister John Main, the Pairijait Tigumivik Society presents a long list of concerns it wants addressed at Embassy West Senior Living.

A lack of Inuktitut interpretation for Inuit residents and improper care from staff, including leaving people in their beds for days at a time, are among the letter’s allegations.

The letter also alleges that Inuit at the care home are not given an Inuktitut-speaking interpreter when they are sent by ambulance to hospital.

It accuses the facility of giving residents – many of whom are expert seamstresses – childlike projects like sewing paper hearts, and calling them “ataata,” meaning father, or “anaana,” meaning mother, instead of their names.

The Canadian Press made multiple attempts to reach Embassy West for comment but did not receive a response.

Embassy West isn’t entirely to blame, said Rachel Qitsualik, the society’s president.

Two women hold the Nunavut flag on Nunavut Day outside Embassy West Senior Living in Ottawa. Photo: EWSL Facebook page

She said the Nunavut government needs to step in immediately to fix things at the home and ultimately bring elder care back to the territory.

“There has to be a reset … we’re basically saying this is not working and here are ideas that we have to make it work. What are you going to do about it now?” Qitsualik said.

“The (Nunavut government) is choosing this facility, requiring that people go there and paying for it. They have the oversight,” said Anne Crawford, an Iqaluit lawyer who works with the society.

Qitsualik said problems at the home came to light earlier this year when families were allowed to travel there to help with care during a COVID-19 outbreak.

“The whole issue of elder care was in such contrast to what people expect culturally,” she said. “It just blew people’s minds that these things were happening.”

Aging infrastructure

Qitsualik said Nunavut’s aging infrastructure is to blame for more and more Nunavut elders being sent south.

“The falling apart infrastructure is now affecting having to have people shipped out in large numbers, because they’re not able to be addressed in a smaller context of a community,” she said.

Nunavut does not have the capacity to care for elders with complex needs. Nunavut’s Health Department said there are 43 elders currently living at Embassy West in Ottawa.

Crawford said Embassy West is not necessarily a “below standard” care home, but there is a great cultural gap.

“This is not an appropriate place for Inuit elders,” she said. “The gap is so great in this context that people won’t be receiving the care that they need.

“In Inuit culture, Inuit are the knowledge keepers, the people who pass knowledge to the next generation.”

Nunavut premier

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok has committed to creating an elder care strategy for the territory. Qitsualik and Crawford said that isn’t enough.

“This is way too late in the game to say, ‘OK, now we’ll develop a strategy,”’Qitsualik said.

“It’s essentially a deferral of an issue that needs immediate attention,” Crawford said.

The society wants to see the territory identify buildings in communities that could be renovated to accommodate elders and to hire nursing staff for home care.

And, in the short term, it wants to see Embassy West hire more interpreters, offer traditional food and play Inuktitut radio and television programs.

Society’s letter

In an email, Nunavut’s Health Department said Main has received the society’s letter, is reviewing it and will respond.

“The Government of Nunavut takes the health and well-being of Nunavut elders very seriously. The Department of Health is open to hearing the concerns of Nunavut residents or organizations regarding services and care for elders in the territory,” the department said.

Qitsualik said elders are integral to Inuit communities and, without them, important knowledge, language and cultural practices aren’t passed on to the next generation.

“Once you rip that out of the system, the whole system falls apart.”

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