There’s no place like home — especially if you’ve been stuck in hospital for months. That was the case for Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) elder Rosie Spence, who was finally discharged to a receiving home Friday after spending a year at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.
Spence was admitted due to pneumonia and other issues after what was supposed to be a short visit for diabetes-related complications. While in hospital, Spence had to have an amputation after a leg infection was found near Christmas last year. Not long after that, she also contracted COVID-19.
Thankfully her case of COVID-19 was mild, but other health issues made her compromised and unable to go back home.
Inez Vystrcil, Spence’s niece, said Spence missed her sister’s passing and funeral service while she was in hospital, which was particularly hard for her.
She also missed meeting her new granddaughter, who turns one year old this month. However, Spence said she was treated well while in hospital, though she did experience loneliness.
WATCH | NCN welcomes Elder Rosie Spence out of hospital
Sometimes when her nephew, NCN Chief Marcel Moody, called, “I’d start crying,” said Spence.
“I went through a lot. I didn’t mind. The nurses were nice to me. Everybody was very nice, and treated me well.”
Waiting lists, travelling and delays
Spence was on dialysis for diabetes, which wasn’t an option in closer communities like Thompson, Man., as space was limited with long wait-lists there.
Vystrcil says the travel process for community members up north — especially elders — is gruelling and scary. NCN is located in Nelson House, Man, about 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
“I think there are multiple layers to the health experience and the health journey for people from up north. Coming from the remote communities it’s probably compounded because they have to fly from their community into Thompson, and coordinate with various parties to get from Thompson to Winnipeg,” said Vystrcil, who used to be the Health Director for MKO First Nation.
Vystrcil says the process leaves elders waiting hours on end — usually in airports or bus depots — for approval from health authorities to get a taxi or a hotel, which means it can take hours until they have somewhere to eat.
“It’s just agonizing for the elders in particular … but we’re very fortunate to have a facility where we can shorten the journey and make it less gruelling for them.”
Home away from home
Luckily, NCN has a new facility in Winnipeg where community members can stay while in the city for medical appointments. The NCN Medical Receiving Home opened last July, two blocks from the Health Sciences Centre on Elgin Street, and Spence will be staying there for the time being.
“It was almost surreal because I just thought it was never going to happen. I couldn’t believe the day finally came that she’s free,” said Vystrcil. “The day’s finally come. Here we are, we get to carry on with our lives and enjoy each other’s company again.”
NCN Chief Marcel Moody, Spence’s nephew, was also there to greet her at the receiving home.
“I’m an emotional person, I just about cried. I was so happy to see her, finally after a year. She’s not 100 per cent, but at least she’s out of the hospital, maybe she’ll completely heal now that she’s with family and friends,” said Moody.
More facilities needed
Moody notes the medical receiving home is much needed, and he hopes to expand it into a bigger facility.
“The demand is there for sure. People are frustrated. They have to beg medical services to even get escorts. We have to fight for our people to get the care they deserve.”
Moody says community members get discouraged because of travelling. He says many people don’t want to go to appointments at all. The rate of no-shows is around 50 per cent and climbing now due to COVID.
“When people are scared, when people get sick and they don’t go to the nursing station, or they go way too late. People delay because of the process. That’s not conducive to a good, healthy recovery for our people…. A lot of people die prematurely because they don’t have the proper care they need.”
Sheila North, former MKO grand chief, met Spence at the receiving home. She says the facility should be one of many for First Nations communities.
“It brings them at least a little bit of home, some of the comforts of home. Familiar faces, and language for our elders, especially, to be around when they’re going through a difficult time like an illness,” North said.
North also recognizes the unknown aspect of traveling for health reasons can be fearful for many.
“It’s traumatizing sometimes to come from the reserve to the city when you’re not used to it, and then to be put in places you don’t know.”
Aside from NCN, one other northern reserve has a receiving home in Winnipeg — Swampy Cree Medical Receiving Home on River Avenue. Kivalliq Inuit Centre on Burnell Street also welcomes Inuit in Winnipeg for medical care. The homes provide housekeeping, kitchen, security, counselling and transportation staff for residents while they are away from their communities.