WIIKWEMKOONG – The list of nursing homes receiving funding for new buildings was released by the province on November 20. To the dismay of community members across Manitoulin, neither Wikwemikong Nursing Home (WNH) nor Manitoulin Lodge made the cut. With a 2025 deadline for new facilities fast looming, concerns over the future of the two facilities are rising.
Wiikwemkoong singer/songwriter Crystal Shawanda has stepped up to help raise awareness and funding for the Wiikwemkoong long-term care residence and lobby the provincial government.
“When I heard the news (that the WNH did not receive funding) I was really concerned,” said Ms. Shawanda when contacted at her home in Nashville. “I remember entertaining there even as a little kid. I was only about 10 or 11 years old when I would go and play the piano and sing for the residents. Later on I would bring my guitar.”
Ms. Shawanda has personal links to the nursing home. “First I would go to visit my cousin’s grandmother, then my own grandfather lived there for a while.”
The singer/songwriter said that community activism isn’t really her forté, but this really struck home. “I may live in Nashville now, but Wiikwemkoong is my community,” she said. “It’s where I come from and my parents still live there.”
“I don’t really know this world (politics and government funding), I know music, but I couldn’t just stand by while this was happening,” she said. “I know that chief and council are working on it, but I want to do what I can to help.” So she is using her high profile to help get the word out on efforts to convince the provincial government to fund the facility.
Ms. Shawanda is using her “platform” on social media to encourage people to write to Ontario Minister of Health and Long-term Care Christine Elliott on behalf of the home. “I had help from my colleague Cheryl Whiskyjack writing the letter; I write music not letters,” she laughed regarding the letter template posted on her Facebook page. The letter template can be found on Ms. Shawanda’s page, although that letter will need a bit of adjusting to change it to fit the writer’s information.
“I was very surprised to learn we didn’t get approved for funding,” said WNH administrator Cheryl Osawabine-Peltier. “We had all of our application in and everything was in order. We really thought we would get it this time.” Not only had WNH vetted the application with its bank, the chief and council of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory were stepping up with both a letter of support for the project and, even more telling, had committed to funding for the project as well.
Community support was also clearly demonstrated, with more than $100,000 being raised through fundraising initiatives including the popular Playing with the Queen of Hearts game.
WNH enjoys a stellar reputation among its residents and their families, but that comes with a certain caveat.
“When you first go in you think ‘oh, can’t they get a newer building? This place is so old and worn’,” said Ms. Shawanda. “Then you see how the staff interacts with the residents, how they are laughing and joking like family. They really are a part of the people living there’s family, it isn’t just words. The place just brightens up.”
Ms. Osawabine-Peltier said that in following up with the project manager at the ministry she was told that priority was given to homes this year that needed to step away from the ward system. “But then I see that Gore Bay wasn’t funded either.”
The Expositor reached out for comment from Jarlette Health Services, managers of Manitoulin Lodge among 20 other long-term care homes serving 1,600 residents in Ontario.
Jarlette Community Relations Co-ordinator Stephanie Barber responded in an email, “While our home was not named in the announcement made by Minister Fullerton, we continue to advocate tirelessly for Manitoulin Lodge and we are working closely with our trusted governing bodies to champion the redevelopment forward. The provincial government continues to illustrate its leadership and dedication to creating a sustainable future for the Long Term Care sector at large and we are confident that this will benefit Manitoulin Lodge and the Gore Bay community in future. As soon as we have information to share regarding the redevelopment of Manitoulin Lodge, we will be certain to do so.”
WNH has applied to build a 96-bed facility, up from its current 59 beds which are not economically sustainable. “In order to be at the minimum required you need at least 90 beds,” shared Ms. Osawabine-Peltier. “Otherwise you are always at a loss.”
With a 96-bed facility, not only would the bottom line fade from red to black, but the residents and staff would have a much better living and work environment.
Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha also expressed surprise and vowed to find a way to assist the nursing homes.
“I plan to reach out to get a hold of Gore Bay and Wiikwemkoong to see how they scored, if that information was shared with them,” he said. “Did they have everything that was required? We all know that those facilities are needed, we have an aging population and those facilities offer first rate services, we need more of them. With a deadline coming we’ve got to get this figured out.”
“I promised my laundry staff a raise and that we would move them out of the basement,” said Ms. Osawabine-Peltier. She is hoping the provincial government will help her keep those commitments.