New funds in this year’s provincial budget for continuing care homes could help more elders live longer in their home communities, says the chief of Alexander First Nation.
Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping and Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson were at the Kipohtakawkamik Elders Lodge in Alexander First Nation March 16 to announce that the province would issue a second call for proposals for culturally appropriate continuing care facilities in First Nations and Métis communities this summer as part of its Continuing Care Capital Program.
Said program, which is receiving $310 million over three years as part of the 2023 provincial budget, is meant to bolster the province’s continuing care system, which covers home care, supportive living, and long-term care. The program includes a dedicated stream for Indigenous care facilities as recommended by the 2021 Facility-Based Continuing Care Review, which called on the province to collaborate with Indigenous communities to provide culturally appropriate continuing care services.
“Too often elders and other community members are forced to travel from home to get the care they need,” Wilson said — something which forces them to choose between their home communities and their health.
“It’s simply not acceptable.”
Wilson said this program aimed to help First Nations and Métis communities partner with the province to create continuing care facilities which met their needs.
Copping said the province hoped to replicate the success of the Kipohtakawkamik lodge in Alexander, which had been in operation for about 16 years, through this program. Seniors at the lodge had told him they had lived longer than they had expected because they had access to friends, traditional foods, and a familiar environment there.
“This program will allow Indigenous people to access the care they need and allow for these valued knowledge keepers (elders) to be close to their communities,” Copping said.
Copping said he was not sure how much of the $310 million would go toward Indigenous care facilities, as that would depend on the costs of the projects proposed. The province was now finalizing the details of seven such facilities funded through the program’s first call for proposals back in 2021, and hoped to fund more than seven projects this round.
Alexander as model
In an interview, Alexander Chief George Arcand Jr. said Copping asked to make this announcement at the Kipohtakawkamik lodge because of the community’s lengthy partnership with the province on long-term care.
Arcand said the lodge was one of the first long-term care facilities built on a First Nation in Canada, and was designed with smudges and other First Nations ceremonies in mind. Its residents are fully integrated with the community, taking part in local programs and events, and live longer, healthier lives as a result.
“It’s something that allows people to feel comfortable and safe and feel like it’s their home,” he said.
Arcand hoped Alexander could help other communities set up their own continuing care facilities. Alexander council was also interested in applying for this new round of continuing care funding, either to add more beds to their seniors lodge or to build supportive living homes for seniors.
Arcand said elders deserve dignity and respect as they grow old, which means giving them care which respects their beliefs and keeps them together with their families. Kept close, elders nurture and sustain communities and pass on knowledge, language, and traditions to youths.
“Healthy elders are the future of our nation,” Arcand said.