Enlarged Larga Baffin house already too small
Inuit residence in Ottawa counted 28,000 bed-nights in 2011
Eelata Michael of Iqaluit has visited Larga Baffin more times than she can remember.
Since she was diagnosed with cancer almost two years ago, Michael has travelled back and forth between Iqaluit and the Ottawa patient boarding for visits of up to three to four weeks at a time, while she gets treatment at the city’s hospitals.
“It’s my home away from home,” she says.
Now cancer-free, Michael must still travel to Ottawa for regular medical follow-ups — she’s mid-way through a month-long stay right now.
During the last two years, Michael’s says she’s been fortunate to get to know the staff at Larga Baffin, which hosts patients from communities across the Baffin region.
“I’m always grateful to be here,” Michael said. “The staff, the cooks, the drivers are awesome. They’re really good with all the patients, and I know that makes a difference.”
The time she’s spent at Larga has helped her forge relationships and learn to navigate the city on her own.
Thanks to that, Michael says she rarely feels lonely or isolated while away from her family.
But that’s not the case for many of Larga’s residents, some of whom travel to Ottawa without family escorts, ill, and unfamiliar with their surroundings.
While they get warm meals, a bed to sleep in and medical care, many miss the day-to-day activities that fill their home life.
“The reality is there are some people here for weeks and months at a time,” said Trudy Metcalfe-Coe, Larga Baffin’s general manager. “They’re away from their homes, families, communities and support networks.”
They also miss their culture and their social life, she said.
“We do so much — we live with them day-to-day over the course of their battles,” Metcalfe-Coe said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure they’re comfortable, but we’d also like to keep them busy.”
Metcalfe-Coe said Larga would love to offer more and regular cultural programing at the residence, as a way to make patients feel at home and to provide them with a venue for socializing with other Inuit.
Larga Baffin staff often coordinates holiday parties for residents; they host bingo night and this past weekend, the Easter Bunny visited the rooms of the residence’s youngest guests.
Sometimes when there are events hosted in the city, Larga will rent a bus to to shuttle residents to Ottawa-area festivals and concerts.
But money and manpower are major barriers to offering regular services.
“We’d love to have a cultural program, but part of the problem is finding space and materials,” Metcalfe-Coe said. “If I want to do a beading or sewing circle, what if I have 60 people show up?”
That number isn’t an exaggeration, either: the 87-bed residence is home to 104 this week.
And it’s not unusual for Larga to grow 50 per cent over capacity.
Then the residence houses more than 80 people and puts another 40 patients up at a nearby Travelodge hotel.
That’s despite the opening of a new, enlarged residence in 2009.
Larga Baffin doesn’t keep statistics on the number of individual patients who stay there, but the residence tracked 28,000 bed nights in 2011, a number that Metcalfe-Coe says will continue to grow.
With that in mind, Metcalfe-Coe has met with the managers of the three other Larga residences (in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Yellowknife) to figure out how to put out a call for support.
Looking to the Government of Nunavut for cultural funding is tricky, she said, since the Larga residences are located outside of the territory.
And Larga Baffin isn’t owned by the GN but by the Nunasi and Qikiqtani Inuit corporations.
“If I could have whatever I wanted, I would have someone dedicated to (cultural programming) in a dedicated space,” she said, estimating that could run upwards of $100,000 a year.
In the meantime, Larga Baffin is undergoing a renovation to enlarge its ground floor sitting room, where most residents like to spend time, by expanding it to four times its size.
That will help provide a common area large enough for crowds to gather for activities, Metcalfe-Coe said.
A recent request for donations of a used guitar resulted in two or three offers; once the instruments are delivered, Larga’s new sitting room could be transformed into a venue for song and dance.
“We may not have the budget to bring in people and host events, but we try and do things so people spend time together,” she said.
Metcalfe-Coe said the residence is always looking for donations from Nunavut or Ottawa-based Inuit organizations.