About 20 people gathered outside the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut on Friday morning, in the face of temperatures below -25°C, to show their silent support for a family in Coral Harbour, Nunavut, who are trying to bring their father back from a facility for people with dementia in Ottawa.
Protesters also called on the government to provide more aged care facilities in the territory and more support to help families care for aging loved ones and community members at home.
Among them was Sarah Netser, whose father, Raymond Ningeocheak, has been receiving dementia care for a year at the Embassy West Senior Living Facility in Ottawa.
Ningeocheak was for nearly 40 years the second vice-president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Nunavut land claims organization representing approximately 30,000 Inuit.
The family has already signed a waiver to bring him home, acknowledging that health facilities in Coral Harbor cannot meet his needs and taking responsibility for his care.
However, they cannot get medical approval to move it, said Iqaluit lawyer Anne Crawford, who helped organize the silent protest.
Without approval, the Nunavut Department of Health will not pay for the cost of his return trip, or for equipment such as a hospital bed. That would leave the family on the hook for over $45,000 in expenses.
Crawford helps the family in their discussions with the government and describes herself as the elders’ advocate.
“They’re looking for a call or a second opinion to see if it’s convenient for him to come home,” she said.
“He has the right to return. He cannot be arbitrarily detained. But the [Nunavut government] is unwilling to pay the cost of his trip unless their criteria are met.”
Netser told CBC News his father couldn’t get medical clearance because he was waiting for a neurology appointment.
It’s been a year, and she said we still don’t know when that date will be.
Netser said the family would prefer he wait at home.
“He’s lonely and longs to be with his family. … If he’s with them, I think he’ll find his spirit,” she said. “And I think if he eats his own traditional food, he will gain more weight.”
Over the years, a growing number of seniors — about 40 currently — have been sent to southern residential care facilities, such as Embassy West in Ottawa.
Jack Anawak, a former Liberal MP, was also present at the vigil. He said he hoped the government would help the family in their efforts to move the house from Ningeocheak.
“The Inuit have always taken care of their elderly, so it makes no sense that the government does not take this step to bring them back to their loved ones,” he said.
After the vigil, Nunavut’s health minister told CBC News that the department’s priority was always to care for seniors in their home or home community.
However, Main admitted that the territory has limited capacity to meet the needs of seniors – an issue he has described as “politically significant” in recent years.
“I anticipate that will continue to be the case,” he said. “I believe this will lead to improvements and greater services and facilities available in the territory in the years to come. And I can’t wait to be a part of that work and I can’t wait to see the improvements made.
The government had already taken steps during the COVID-19 outbreak to allow Nunavut families to travel south to be with loved ones in places like Embassy West to help provide care, Main said.
Main would not go into detail about Ningeocheak’s case for confidentiality reasons, but said obtaining medical clearance is a complex process that involves considering the patient’s medical needs and the family’s capacity. and their communities to meet these needs.
“There may be things painted in black and white when in fact, upon closer examination or further discussion, there is indeed much more to consider.”
“The family’s right to autonomy is there and they can call their loved one or their person under guardianship out of a facility when they see fit,” he said.
Main reiterated his previous statement that without this medical clearance, a family bringing a senior back to the territory would not be eligible for medical travel assistance.
However, he was unable to provide information on whether there was an appeal process or what would happen if the family were granted a second opinion.
He said they were continuing to work with the family to find a solution.
Netser thanked those at the protest for their support and said by Friday afternoon they had raised more than $4,000 for the cost of returning Ningeocheak home.