In early May, six residents of Iqaluit’s elders home were put on charter flights leaving the city after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
Four were sent to the Embassy West Seniors Living Residence in Ottawa and two others were sent elsewhere in the territory, the Nunavut government said at the time.
Nearly 2 1/2 months later, none of them has returned and the elders home remains closed.
In recent news conferences, Nunavut’s health minister Lorne Kusugaksaid the elders would be able to return once staffing permits.
There is no clear timeline for when that will happen, said Anne Crawford, an Iqaluit lawyer and volunteer with Pairijait Tigumivik, the non-profit group that managed the home for the last 25 years.
“When you have that farewell at the airport … you don’t know if they’re going to come back,” she said. “They’re such incredible people and resources for the communities. And we’re taking them away.”
Crawford said the elders thought they would be gone for two weeks — the amount of time for staff to complete isolation.
“Now they’re in an institution, in a different city, with no connection to their families.”
Crawford suggested the elders sent out in May should never have been made to leave the territory.
Pairijait Tigumivik approached the Iqaluit Housing Authority and churches in town to see if the elders could be taken in, but the government was “intent on sending them south,” said Crawford.
“It’s a crisis. Of course you have to cope with it. But you go to community resources,” she said.
She also said a solution was only needed for four days. Enough staff would have finished isolation by then and the home could have been reopened.
Kusugak said in early June that the closure gave the department an opportunity to make repairs. He said the elders wouldn’t return to Iqaluit until renovations were complete.
“There’s no safe place for them to be here at this time,” he said.
The department also needs to find a new group to run the home. Pairijait Tigumivik’s contract was to expire March 31, but it continued to provide care through May 10.
Crawford said the group had concerns about some of the department’s requests, including removing some Inuit staff. She said the group contacted the Health Department to say it wouldn’t be seeking a contract extension, didn’t receive a response, and ultimately quit.
Kusugak said the plan has always been to bring the elders back.
“When the new management team is in place, the staff are properly trained, and the facility itself is ready to accept elders — at that time they will be here,” Kusugak said.
In a statement to The Canadian Press on July 14, a spokesperson for Nunavut’s Health Department said renovations started on May 31 and are expected to finish this summer.
“While the closure is temporary, the facility will not be reopening until the scheduled renovations are completed, the community outbreak is cleared, the contract with the new service provided has been signed and there are sufficient staffing levels,” the department said.
Iqaluit’s COVID-19 outbreak was declared over on Tuesday. There are no active cases in the territory.
Elders in Nunavut are regularly sent out of the territory for care. There is currently no care in the territory for elders with dementia or for those needing to be looked after 24 hours a day.
The government plans to build three long-term care facilities in Nunavut — in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay — by 2030.
There are two elders homes now, one in Iqaluit and one in Arviat, that offer assisted living residential care. They can accommodate eight elders each. There are smaller elder care centres in Igloolik, Gjoa Haven and Arviat, with 28 beds combined.
Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press
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