Family of Nunavut elder in Ottawa long-term care faces $45K bill to bring him home

·3 min read
Raymond Ningeocheak and his daughter Sarah Netser. The Nunavut elder longs to return to his family in Coral Harbour, but finds himself living in a long-term care home in Ottawa.  (Submitted by Sarah Netser - image credit)
Raymond Ningeocheak and his daughter Sarah Netser. The Nunavut elder longs to return to his family in Coral Harbour, but finds himself living in a long-term care home in Ottawa. (Submitted by Sarah Netser - image credit)

Raymond Ningeocheak longs to eat seal meat again with his family in Coral Harbour, Nunavut — but the medevac flight alone to send the Inuk elder home from long-term care in Ottawa costs $45,000.

Ningeocheak has spent the last year at the Embassy West senior living facility, where he is receiving care for dementia.

His daughter, Sarah Netser, said Ningeocheak's health has been declining rapidly. He was also one of eight elders at the facility to get COVID-19 recently, though he has since recovered.

"He told me he's so sick of being there," Netser said. "He would rather be with family."

Ningeocheak is one of about 40 Nunavut elders who are receiving care in the South, to the consternation of many Nunavummiut who would like to keep elders closer to home.

Away from home

Ningeocheak spent almost 40 years as the second vice-president with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which represents about 30,000 Nunavut Inuit.

Throughout his career, he was outspoken about Inuit hunting rights, and pushed to have traditional knowledge recognized in wildlife management plans.

Netser described him as someone who loves to help people in need as well.

"He's a very caring and kind person," she said.

Now, though the 80-year-old wants to leave Embassy West, he hasn't been cleared by his doctors to make the trip home.

Craig Simailak/CP
Craig Simailak/CP

Netser said her family hasn't been happy with the care Ningeocheak is receiving in Ottawa, and they're willing to take on that work themselves if they can find a way to fly him home. Aside from the cost of the prescribed medevac flight, they would need to pay thousands more dollars to get items like a hospital bed set up for him.

She said they couldn't get financial help from the Nunavut government because they weren't following doctors' orders.

The Nunavut government declined to comment on Ningeocheak's individual case.

But Health Minister John Main did confirm Netser's claims in an email.

In cases where families choose to repatriate loved ones against medical advice, they are provided with a waiver to sign, Main wrote. The waiver "confirms understanding that the individual was placed in care based on their assessed needs, which cannot be met by the community."

Sara Frizzell/CBC
Sara Frizzell/CBC

Main also wrote that if a resident is not medically cleared to travel, "the Government of Nunavut is unable to pay or help the resident return."

"Upon signing the waiver, the individual/family assumes responsibility for care and are responsible for arranging repatriation and providing the required care."

Main added that "the Government of Nunavut is committed to providing the best possible care to Nunavut's Elders. When possible, Elder care is provided in-territory and the Government of Nunavut is working toward expanding the level of care available in our territory."

Netser says they've reached out to the Kivalliq Inuit Association and Nunavut Tunngavik as well for assistance, though they had not heard back by the time they spoke with CBC.

"Whatever we come up with, if we have to fundraise, I'll do that," Netser said.

CBC reached out to Embassy West for comment but did not hear back.

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