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The Iqaluit Elders Home on Oct. 4, 2021.Pat Kane/The Globe and Mail

Iqaluit’s only assisted-living facility for seniors has reopened, paving the way for some elders who are being cared for at a retirement home in Ottawa to eventually return to Nunavut.

The territory’s Health Minister, John Main, said the Iqaluit Elders Home would begin welcoming residents this week.

The first elder was scheduled to move in on Wednesday. After that, one elder a week is supposed to move in until the home’s seven beds are full, Mr. Main told reporters near the end of a COVID-19 news conference on Tuesday.

“We’ve been working extremely hard to bring back our elders,” Premier P.J. Akeeagok said at the same event.

The Iqaluit Elders Home had been closed for nearly nine months, leaving Nunavut’s capital without a single long-term care bed for seniors.

The closing underscored how a shortage of long-term care spaces across the territory has forced some Nunavut families to choose between keeping their parents and grandparents at home with scant help or sending them thousands of kilometres away to Embassy West Senior Living, the Ottawa facility with a contract to care for Nunavut elders outside the territory.

The Globe and Mail wrote about the plight of some of those families last month. There were 39 Nunavut residents living at Embassy West as of mid-January, many of them Inuktitut-speaking elders who were part of a generation scarred by the mid-20th-century policy of sending Inuit to tuberculosis sanitoriums in the South for years at a time.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized for the practice in 2019, calling it a “shameful chapter in our history.”

Nunavut, which is made up of 25 fly-in communities spread across three time zones, doesn’t have enough long-term care beds to meet the general demand, nor does it have any facilities capable of caring for patients with advanced dementia.

The elders transferring to the reopened Iqaluit facility will be “a combination of residents returning from out of territory and also from in territory,” Mr. Main said.

The pandemic is affecting that transfer process, he added. “It’s affecting all parts of our lives, frankly, at this point, but I can’t say specifically how it’s affected the Iqaluit Elders Home and the residents going in there.”

All four of Nunavut’s long-term care facilities are dealing with COVID-19 cases, Mr. Main said. There are a total of 10 positive cases spread across the facilities in the hamlets of Cambridge Bay, Igloolik, Gjoa Haven and Arviat. One of those cases was diagnosed in an elder; the rest are among staff.

Embassy West in Ottawa is also grappling with a COVID-19 outbreak that began in late December. Mr. Main said that facility was down to fewer than five cases, none of them in elders from Nunavut.

The Nunavut government closed the Iqaluit Elders Home last May after two workers tested positive for COVID-19. There were six elders living there at the time. Four agreed to move to Embassy West. The others found places to stay elsewhere in the territory.

Prior to the closing, the home was operated by Pairijiit Tigummiaqtikkut, an elders’ society that had run the Iqaluit facility since the 1980s. Last April, the society decided against renewing its agreement to run the home on the territorial government’s behalf, but offered to stay on until a new operator could be found.

Instead, after closing the facility because of the staff infections, the government turned a planned minor renovation into a major one that involved remodelling the kitchen, fixing up a common area and replacing windows.

The new operator, Pimakslirvik Corp., also needed to hire staff before the home could reopen, something Mr. Main said is now complete.

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