In spring 2018, then-Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said she would allocate 76 additional long-term care beds to the small northwestern Ontario town of Sioux Lookout.
Before Doug Ford took office in June of that year, he promised to make good on that commitment. But more than five years later, those beds have not materialized and there has been no news about it.
The city, a hub for 33 surrounding First Nations, 28 of which are remote, has 5,800 permanent residents and thousands of people go there for medical appointments and social services. Now you are running out of space to treat and accommodate everyone.
People are increasingly impatient for the long-awaited expansion of the William A. George Extended Care Centera 21-bed long-term care home operated by Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Healthcare Facility.
Sioux Lookout resident Aileen Urquhart took matters into her own hands this summer.
The 78-year-old held a photo op with her friends outside the post office, holding a shovel, to show that the community is ready to build the beds when the province is ready to fund them.
“In 2018, when Mr. Ford was in Sioux Lookout on a pre-election campaign, he promised that he would bring his shovel and turn the first sod for the long-term care facility if he was elected. Well, he’s been elected twice. and still hasn’t shown up with a shovel,” Urquhart said.
Urquhart’s shovel was passed to Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa to be handed over to Ford at Queen’s Park.
Community members will also gather Saturday at the Sioux Area Senior Activities Center, pens in hand, for a letter-writing campaign to pressure the government to keep its promise.
Project in ‘early planning stages’
Breaking: requested an interview with Ontario Long-Term Care Minister Stan Cho, but instead received an email statement.
“As of November 2023, the Sioux Lookout project is in the early stages of development planning and there is no timeline available for completion,” spokesman Mark Nesbitt wrote.
“The ministry continues to work with the operator to advance this project through the planning, construction and opening stages in order to welcome residents to this modern, safe and comfortable home.”
The province has said it is on track to meet its goal of building 30,000 long-term care beds by 2028, although that has come with scrutiny around its Long-Term Care Fixing Act.
Nesbitt did not specify how much money the province is committing to the Sioux Lookout project.
According to Jesse Bonello, communications manager for Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Center, the estimated total capital cost in 2018 was $59.5 million.
Bonello provided an emailed statement to Breaking: on behalf of Dean Osmond, president and CEO of the Lookout Meno Ya Win Sioux Health Centre.
“We continue to have conversations with Ontario Health Northwest and the ministries to emphasize the importance of providing the additional long-term care beds that have been allocated since 2018.
“Having a large number of alternative level of care patients in our hospital has impacted our ability to get critical care patients out of our emergency department and into a bed,” Bonello said. “The lack of beds has also impacted our ability to repatriate our patients from other facilities in a timely manner, such as the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.”
A ‘ready to start’ project
If 21 beds weren’t enough in 2018, 76 additional beds won’t be enough in 2023, said Janis Magnuson, a former hospital board member who now serves on the hospital’s board. Sioux Area Senior Activity Center.
“There’s really not a question of whether this is necessary or not. It’s a question of how it’s going to be funded,” Magnuson said.
He added that it’s important for the ministry to consider the additional costs of construction in northern Ontario, “and the uniqueness of the fact that there are several communities flying in that are also using the beds.”
“We need additional funding because our needs are different from the needs of the communities. [in] southern Ontario.”
The wait time for a long-term care bed is estimated at six or seven years, which is putting pressure on the hospital’s emergency department and its alternative level of care beds, said Reece Van Breda, a Sioux councilman. Lookout that is part of an informal group. committee of concerned citizens advocating for more long-term care beds.
“This is a shovel-ready project; we just need the capital financing for the building,” Van Breda said. “If you look at the demographics of the north, this problem is going to get worse and worse, and the backlog will get bigger and bigger and even more hospital beds will be taken up by people waiting for long-term care beds again.”
Van Breda hopes the letter-writing campaign will build on the recent social media advocacy push to get the province to recognize the urgency of the project.
“It feels like we’re on the Titanic and we’re saying, ‘Iceberg right ahead, we’re going to hit this iceberg,’ and we’re screaming, screaming… but the only one who could steer the ship to safety is Doug Ford.” , said.
Lack of political will
For MPP Sol Mamakwa, the delay in getting long-term care beds in Sioux Lookout is just another chapter in a series of health care challenges facing northern communities.
“In the north we are still in a perpetual crisis. [one] crisis after crisis, and then we don’t have time to focus on these things,” Mamakwa said. “They become normal when you live in those conditions every day, and they are not normal.”
The letter-writing campaign is a way community members can come together to drive change, fight complacency and provide better health care to First Nations people, he said.
Mamakwa is expected to hand over the Sioux Lookout residents’ shovel to Ford soon.
“We have to treat our elders [better] because they can’t just send them away and then bring them back in a box when they die. We need them closer to home,” Mamakwa said.
“The more we work together, the stronger we become as people.”