MINDEMOYA— She has been the talk of Central Manitoulin for the past few weeks—an elderly woman spotted outside of the Island Foodland, struggling with her bags, or seen inside Mum’s Restaurant, enjoying a hot drink and a bite to eat, but not many stopped to ask her name.
Her name, however, is Karen Pawis, age 70, formerly of Wikwemikong. She is as sharp as a tack, but her body is ailing, and she has only one wish—to spend her final years in the Wikwemikong Nursing Home.
Elva Corbiere of Mindemoya contacted The Expositor on Monday of this week—this after numerous people alerted this newspaper to the plight of the elderly woman who appeared to be Mindemoya’s first homeless person.
“Our son came home and told us that there is an elder at the Foodland, homeless,” she said. If their son RJ was concerned, so were they, so off they went to offer Ms. Pawis a place to stay.
Ms. Pawis spoke to this reporter from the Corbiere home on Monday, filled with emotion.
She explained that she is a Shawanaga First Nation band member who married Frank Peltier of Wikwemikong, making that community her home. When her husband passed away in 1991 she continued to live in Wikwemikong for some time before moving to Toronto.
“I went to Toronto, looking for my son, then something very bad happened so I ran away to Vancouver—too ashamed to come back,” she explained of her whereabouts for the past number of years. “I found out I was terminally ill, so I decided to come back to Wikwemikong.”
“I want to be in the nursing home—I want to pass away here. I want to be near Frank,” the elder sobbed.
Ms. Pawis took a train from Vancouver to Sudbury, spending the night in a hotel before taking a taxi to Wikwemikong, not knowing the process of getting into the nursing home. The senior requires the use of a motorized wheelchair for mobility.
Once on Manitoulin, Ms. Pawis was brought by police to the Manitoulin Health Centre in Little Current to be seen by doctors where she remained for a few weeks. She stated that while in Little Current doctors declared her to be mentally sound.
One day, Ms. Pawis claims, a nurse came into her room and told her to start packing, a taxi would be there to pick her up to bring her to Mindemoya. Ms. Pawis asserts that this was done without consultation, but Derek Graham, CEO of the MHC, without knowing the patient’s story directly, explained to The Expositor that this would be untrue as no person is ever discharged without a discharge plan involving that patient and likely the Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), which oversees seniors finding places to live in nursing homes or other care facilities.
From the MHC in Little Current Ms. Pawis was brought to Haven House where she spent four days before checking herself out, citing disagreements with staff and mobility issues within the shelter.
After that, “I slept outside mostly. I got a motel room twice, over two weekends. The rest I stayed outside until Ruby (Elva) and Rick picked me up off the street.” Ms. Pawis also spent some time in the Mindemoya Hospital.
Ms. Pawis said she had one unfortunate incident where a couple told her if they gave her money they would buy some groceries, cook her a nice meal and bring it back for her to eat. The senior agreed, giving the pair $35, but they never came back.
“Mum’s Restaurant treated me absolutely like gold,” she added. “And Ruby (Elva) and Rick are absolutely heaven-sent.”
“I felt like I was dirty or something because I’m an Indian or something,” Ms. Pawis continued, crying. “I’m not a cheap, dirty Indian. I have nice clothes—I’m well-dressed.”
The elder said she has no family here. She tried to find her brother-in-law, but heard he had moved away, possibly to Killarney.
Constable Al Boyd, community services officer with the Manitoulin detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), explained that the OPP was aware of Ms. Pawis and each time a report on her came in, police would respond. However, he said, she had the right to refuse all help that was offered to her because she is mentally sound. Offers of help from service agencies did come in for her as well, he said.
Ms. Corbiere said she doesn’t mind helping the elder, she just wants someone to find Ms. Pawis the help she needs to get her into the Wikwemikong Nursing Home. “I don’t mind doing what I’m doing,” she added. “I need her as much as she needs me.”
Ms. Corbiere explained that her son just left for college and she was grieving his absence until Ms. Pawis came along. “Once I got her here, the energy just came over me. She’s really funny, she’s really good company.”
Ms. Corbiere said she was concerned for her new friend on Monday of this week, though. Normally in good spirits, Ms. Pawis spent much of the day in a funk, crying and worrying about her future. “She’s going through a lot.”
Ms. Pawis left on the streets of Mindemoya “is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said. “It just angers me—there’s a darker side to Manitoulin.”
“I find it disgusting that no one did something,” Ms. Corbiere reiterated. “It took my baby, a 10-year-old, to do something.”
The Expositor reached out to CCAC to question the process of finding a nursing home space, but did not receive a call back by press time Monday. Please follow future issues of this paper as we report on Ms. Pawis’ progress.