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Iqaluit’s elders home sits vacant and under renovations, according to the Government of Nunavut. In early May 2021, six residents were flown from Iqaluit after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.Pat Kane/The Globe and Mail

An Ottawa facility that houses seniors from Nunavut isn’t breaking any Ontario rules while caring for Inuit residents, according to the findings of an inspection carried out in response to complaints from an Iqaluit elders’ society.

The board of Pairijiit Tigummiaqtikkut, an elders’ society based in Nunavut’s capital, wrote a letter of concern to the territory’s Health Minister last month accusing the Ottawa retirement home, Embassy West Senior Living, of failing to provide optimal care to Inuit seniors.

The territory of Nunavut, which is home to 39,000 people in 25 fly-in communities spread across three time zones, does not have enough assisted-living or continuing-care beds to meet the needs of its population. Nunavut does not have any facilities capable of caring for patients with advanced dementia.

As a result, the territorial government often sends elders thousands of kilometres away to Embassy West, an Ottawa retirement home that specializes in dementia care. Thirty-three Nunavummiut live there now, according to the Nunavut Department of Health.

The elders’ society letter alleged that Embassy West sent unilingual Inuktitut speakers to the hospital alone, limited their liquids so they could be taken to the bathroom less frequently, called residents by the Inuktitut words for mother and father rather than learning their names, and employed too few translators – particularly on nights and weekends.

The letter also called on Embassy West to improve the elders’ day-to-day lives by feeding them more traditional Inuit fare, playing Inuktitut radio and television programs, and helping them connect with faraway relatives more often.

Embassy West self-reported the concerns to Ontario’s Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority, an independent regulator that ensures proper care of seniors living in retirement homes. An RHRA inspector, along with a senior member of Embassy West’s staff and a bilingual Government of Nunavut employee, conducted a walk-through of the facility last month and spoke with every Nunavut resident.

The inspection “confirmed there were no findings of non-compliance related to the concerns identified by the Pairijiit Tigummiaqtikkut Society,” Nunavut Health Minister John Main wrote in a letter to the society’s president, which his office shared with the news media.

Mr. Main told The Globe and Mail that the Department of Health was continuing to review some of the cultural issues raised in the letter that fall outside the scope of an RHRA inspection.

“We’re always looking for ways where we can improve the conditions for the elders there,” Mr. Main said of Embassy West, “because at the end of the day, we recognize that the facility is not in Nunavut. The facility is in Ontario, and that’s not ideal in terms of the cultural gaps.”

But Mr. Main said that, over all, the territorial government has been very happy with the care provided by the Ottawa home.

Anne Crawford, an Iqaluit lawyer who works with Pairijiit Tigummiaqtikkut, said the inspector’s conclusion that Embassy West is complying with standards set out by Ontario’s Retirement Homes Act is beside the point.

She said the elders’ society never expected that issues such as serving too little country food – meals featuring caribou, seal and other wild-caught fare – or failing to call residents by their names would lead to findings of “non-compliance” with Ontario’s retirement-home standards.

“The process they used to respond to our concerns was not a process that addressed our concerns,” Ms. Crawford said. “The letter contained positive suggestions on every front about what could be done and I would be delighted if they would implement some of those.”

Ms. Crawford also pointed out that it was difficult to determine the extent of the inspection because the final report was just a single line indicating “no findings of non-compliance” related to one section of the Ontario Retirement Homes Act.

The section covers any suspected incidents of improper or incompetent treatment of residents, abuse of residents or unlawful conduct that harms residents or puts them at risk. It also covers the misuse of residents’ money.

Selma Basic, the director of operations for Embassy West, said in a statement that the inspection, conducted on March 16, was “unannounced” and “thorough.”

“At Embassy West Senior Living, we do our utmost to ensure the health and safety of all our residents and to respect the culture and traditions of the Nunavummiut elders who live in our home,” Ms. Basic wrote. “We also take our reputation quite seriously and believe that unwarranted allegations serve no one’s interests.”

The shortage of assisted-living and continuing-care spaces in Nunavut has become a major political issue in Canada’s youngest territory. Nunavut’s government, which has put elder care at the top of its agenda, is promising to expedite the construction of new elder-care facilities in the territory, including a 24-bed continuing-care home in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut’s second-largest community. It is supposed to open to residents in early 2024.

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