When staff didn't, patients shoveled snow off wheelchair ramp at embattled Iqaluit boarding home

Patients at the Tammaativvik Medical Boarding Home in Iqaluit shovel snow off the wheelchair ramp. (Submitted by Meeka Paniloo - image credit)
Patients at the Tammaativvik Medical Boarding Home in Iqaluit shovel snow off the wheelchair ramp. (Submitted by Meeka Paniloo - image credit)

After asking staff at the Tammaativvik Medical Boarding Home in Iqaluit to clear off a snow-laden wheelchair ramp to no avail, patients picked up shovels on the weekend and took matters into their own hands.

Deep snow had stopped boarding home residents who rely on walkers and wheelchairs from using the ramp, hampering their ability to get in and out of the home.

Meeka Paniloo, who is from Clyde River, has been at the boarding home for the past two weeks and said staff there didn't respond when she asked them to clear the ramp.

"They weren't doing anything about it, and we decided to make it accessible for the person in a wheelchair and for the people with walkers," Paniloo said in Inuktitut. "We felt that we needed to help them."

It shouldn't have fallen to patients, though, to do that job, Paniloo said. She said the staff at the home should be making sure the ramp is clear at all times.

"Something needs to be changed," she said.

Photos of the patients' efforts hit social media, prompting a response from Nunavut's health department.

David Gunn/CBC
David Gunn/CBC

Chris Nolan, Nunavut's assistant deputy minister of health, said the department contacted its contractor, Nova Group, as soon as it became aware of the issue.

"It's not acceptable," he said. "We immediately reached out to the contractor ... to ensure that that doesn't happen again. From that conversation, they had put in a process to ensure that all the ramps and the steps are being inspected on an hourly basis."

Nova could not be reached for comment.

Health Minister John Main said the department is investigating ongoing complaints about the boarding home.

Complaints about boarding home

This isn't the first time patients have flagged issues at the home. The boarding home has been beleaguered by overcrowding and, more recently, by reports of rude staff and a lack of interpreters.

MLAs raised issues related to the boarding home twice last week in the Legislative Assembly, telling similar stories of elders being told to leave the facility.

Last Wednesday, Tununiq MLA Karen Nutarak described a situation where an elder was excited to see an old friend at the boarding home, but staff who didn't speak Inuktitut mistook his excitement for intoxication and called police.

"Many medical travellers from my community find the atmosphere at the Tammaativvik Boarding Home very unwelcoming," Nutarak said.

On Feb. 27, Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk relayed an instance where an elder was kicked out for trying to get their phone back from a staff member.

Main told Kaernerk his department is working with Nova Group to address the issues there and make the home more welcoming for patients.

He said the contractor has been offering a bonus to attract bilingual staff who speak Inuktitut. As of December, six staff members at the boarding home were bilingual, he said.

"My understanding is that they would like to hire more. My understanding is that they are having a tough time competing for the bilingual staff who are very sought after by the Nunavut government, for example."

Nutarak said she expects to see improvements when the new Tammaativvik boarding home opens. That facility is being built across the road from the current one, with more beds and a higher capacity for patients.

Nolan said there isn't an exact date yet for when that boarding home will open, but it should be sometime this week. It should be a "much more comfortable environment for clients," he said, with room for programming and cultural activities.

He said there will be an area in the kitchen for people to prepare country food.

He added there will also be more barrier-free and wheelchair-accessible rooms than the current facility has.