Editorial: Sand is running out on nursing home building funding

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News from Wikwemikong Nursing Home and Manitoulin Lodge is nearly always uplifting, as staff at both those facilities and Centennial Manor in Little Current go above and beyond to make their facilities a home for their residents. Sadly, recent funding announcements from the province took us in a decidedly downward direction when it comes to the first two homes. Both had applied for funding for badly needed new facilities and neither met whatever bar set by bureaucrats at the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care.

To be clear, both those facilities are well-run operations that are highly regarded by the people and the communities they serve. Each have professional and competent staff who, by the ministry’s admission, completely met the application requirements. In the case of Gore Bay there was even the cited issue of eliminating wards to be considered in the mix. Both facilities are oversubscribed with waiting lists, small wonder given the Island’s aging population and the stellar reputations both facilities enjoy.

Kudos must go out to expats like Wiikwemkoong’s songbird Crystal Shawanda for stepping outside her comfort zone to use the platform afforded her through her talent and hard work to marshal support and lobby the provincial government on the issue. When you speak to Ms. Shawanda it becomes abundantly clear from the passion and anecdotes she has to share that this is not a simple celebrity endorsement but an issue that she holds near and dear to her heart.

It has been legislatively made clear that both the Wiikwemkoong and Gore Bay residences must be replaced by the year 2025, but neither the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care nor the provincial government have indicated whether there will be another funding application intake next year, or in time to get shovels in the ground.

Both Wikwemikong Nursing Home and Manitoulin Lodge have shovel-ready projects, land allocated and community contributions in hand—all they need is the provincial starting gun.

It is reasonable to consider that there are many long term care homes in Ontario that are in desperate need of new facilities and the recent horror stories emanating from nursing homes across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic make it clear there is much to be done.

But the province committed in July to creating 15,000 new beds in Ontario and redeveloping 15,000 existing beds in both urban and rural areas—with an emphasis on shovel-ready projects that would ensure those beds were in place by 2022. Both Wiikwemkoong and Gore Bay fit that model to a T.

Algoma-Manitoulin is a region of the country with a rapidly aging population that needs significantly more long term care beds. If we were to lose two of our three homes due to provincial indifference when 2025 rolls around it would prove tragic. Not only for Wiikwemkoong and Gore Bay, where family connections are so important in the community, but for all of Manitoulin, as many Island families seek to entrust the care of their elderly members to the loving embrace of the staff at Wikwemikong Nursing Home and Manitoulin Lodge.

Fine words and noble sentiments are all well and good, but Manitoulin communities need concrete action on this front—literally—and it is to the province that we must look for that action. 

Now is the time for all good Islanders to come to the aid of their elders. The Expositor adds its voice to those seeking that action and encourages others in the community and beyond to add their voices. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, a community is a community, no matter how small.

We deserve better.