Badly needed Cree elders' homes take shape in northern Quebec

·4 min read
Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay chairperson Bertie Wapachee, right, at a blessing and ground-breaking on the site of a new 32-bed elders' home in Chisasibi, Que. Ungava MNA Denis Lamothe, 2nd from right, Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière, 3rd from right, Quebec Seniors Minister Marguerite Blais, 2nd from left, and Chisasibi Chief Daisy House, left, were also on-hand. (Tatiana Philiptchenko/CBHSSJB - image credit)
Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay chairperson Bertie Wapachee, right, at a blessing and ground-breaking on the site of a new 32-bed elders' home in Chisasibi, Que. Ungava MNA Denis Lamothe, 2nd from right, Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière, 3rd from right, Quebec Seniors Minister Marguerite Blais, 2nd from left, and Chisasibi Chief Daisy House, left, were also on-hand. (Tatiana Philiptchenko/CBHSSJB - image credit)

A long-standing dream of keeping Cree elders close to family took another step forward Monday with a blessing and ground-breaking in Chisasibi at the site of a new elders' home.

The building is the first of three 32-bed homes for elders and adults with special needs to be built in Chisasibi, Waskaganish and Mistissini. The three facilities will be regional hubs or "poles" servicing the whole territory.

The homes will provide long-term care, including dialysis, memory care and palliative care, among other services.

"I think we will see a positive impact in the community. Why? Because we get to keep our elders close by and get a chance to visit them," said Bertie Wapachee, chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.

I think we will see a positive impact ... because we get to keep our elders close by and get a chance to visit them. - Bertie Wapachee, Chairperson Cree health board

Many Cree elders needing specialized care must now travel to larger centres in the South, such as Montreal, Val d'Or and elsewhere to live in long-term care facilities, or CHSLDs as they are called in Quebec.

"Rather than having them in the South in institution-like facilities, these will have a home feeling … they will be surrounded by their fellow elders," said Wapachee.

CBHSSJB
CBHSSJB

The elders will also be surrounded by their Cree language and culture in a way that is impossible in the South, said Daisy House, Chief of Chisasibi, the largest of the Cree communities, with a population of more than 5,000.

"It's going to keep our families in the community. It's going to keep us talking Cree," House said.

"[It means] employment in Cree ... It's understanding the realities in our communities."

The badly needed facilities were originally slated to open by the end of 2021, but were delayed by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in the communities. The hope is to have the Chisasibi home open by December 2023.

The Cree facilities have been adapted from a provincial redesign of long-term care facilities that is being rolled out across the province and will replace the more institutional CHSLDs.

The provincial plan will eventually see 51 seniors' homes built and more than 3,400 long-term care beds created at a cost of $2.8 billion, according to Marguerite Blais, minister responsible for seniors and Informal caregivers.

"These homes will look like a home," said Blais.

She added that with more 80 percent of people currently in care in Quebec dealing with neuro-cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's, the more institutional setting at the current CHSLDs needed to change.

In the redesigned facilities, "home" is the key word, said Blais.

Susan Bell/ CBC North
Susan Bell/ CBC North

"Everything that looks like a hospital will be in the background, like in a theatre," she said, adding both Cree and Inuit communities of Nunavik have adapted the province-wide design to be culturally relevant to their populations.

The homes are organized around smaller groupings, where each resident has a private, large bedroom big enough for a family member or caregiver to sleep over. Each resident will also have a private bathroom and adapted shower, making it easier to protect populations from viruses, such as COVID-19, said Blais.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière and Denis Lamothe, member of the national assembly for Ungava, were also on hand for the ground-breaking and blessing Monday in Chisasibi.

"This is not only for the elders. This is the heart of the whole community. I really appreciate that this building will be culturally adapted to reflect the realities of the Cree," said Lafrenière.

Susan Bell/ CBC North
Susan Bell/ CBC North

The group also visited the sites of several other regional health facilities that will be built in the coming years, in projects funded by the Quebec Government and designed, built and operated by the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.

For board chair Bertie Wapachee, Chisasibi Chief Daisy House other Cree leaders, seeing the plans for local long-term care facilities means the realization of a long-standing dream of the communities and wish of many elders, who have already passed on to the spirit world.

"Respecting and caring for kiniwaapimaakinich [elders] is one of the most important Cree customs ... and providing elders with a space where they are cared for – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually – is an act of community love," said House.

Construction of the elders' home will begin in 2022 in Waskaganish and 2023 in Mistissini.

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