Jake Metallic has taken care of his 81-year-old grandfather Louis Metallic for years. The two live together on the Listuguj Mi'gmaq First Nation in Quebec, but over the years they've had to travel to Montreal so Louis can see a kidney and thyroid specialist. “I usually go with him every six months and I’ve been doing this for years,” says Jake Metallic. “He has bi-annual check-ups.”
Listuguj Mi'gmaq First Nation is situated in the southwestern part of the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec. When necessary, community members will travel outside of their community to Montreal or Quebec for specialized health services. When First Nation people have to seek health services outside their communities, the funding is provided by Health Canada through what's called the Non-Insured Health Benefits Program (NIHB). But lately that's changed and community members say it’s for the worst.
Jake Metallic noticed the degraded conditions during his most recent trip to accompany his grandfather. They were no longer provided a hotel room to sleep in—instead they were told to go to a boarding house in Montreal operated by Mamit Innuat, an organization responsible for providing Listuguj members with local transportation, accommodation, and meal benefits. Listuguj members are being told that because of cutbacks to federal funding, boarding houses are where they'll be staying from now on.
“When we arrived, there were already some people staying there,” says Jake Metallic, describing the accommodation provided to them upon their arrival. “The rooms were packed with multiple beds. If more people were there we would have been sharing [the room] with total strangers."
According to Metallic, guests had no privacy or locks for their belongings. The rooms had a shared kitchen and bathroom. The bathrooms were unusually small and the conditions described as dirty. Louis Metallic's son, Gary Metallic, 60, lives and works away from the community but learned about the changes and couldn’t help but be angry.
"You can’t just do that. You can’t bring elders to a city and expect they adapt to these changes,” Gary Metallic says. “You have to try to give the best care you can.”
VICE spoke briefly to Louis Metallic, who called the boarding house a “pigsty.” He said he didn’t want to stay and “got out of there.” The Metallics also learned that in the future, there would no longer be accommodations for Jake. That means if the two couldn't afford it, 80-year-old Louis Metallic would have to travel alone. The cutbacks are a big concern for the community's chief.
“The elders were complaining that they were living in a boarding house with people already living there, they said it was uncomfortable,” says Chief Scott Martin. “For instance, there’s only one TV and they would have to sit and watch TV with a whole family. There’s no privacy.”
Members were so upset they started an online petition. Miranda Mitchell-Caggiano of Listuguj wrote, “Being someone who needed these services for years to see a specialist I know how stressful it can already be to have to travel for needed care, never mind about having to worry about where they'll be sleeping!”
Unlike the Listuguj First Nation, communities in northern Ontario can stay in a 100-bed facility during their medical appointments. “We accommodate the client and one escort. We even allow an extra person in the room,” says Darryl Quedent, director of client services at the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority. The Jeremiah McKay Kabayshewekamik facility, operated by the health authority, opened in 2011. Even though they are now over their capacity, Quedent says they do everything they can to accommodate their clients.
“When numbers don’t work out for us, we do put people from the same community in the same room,” Quedent says. “But our policy is we don’t necessarily put strangers together.”
So far it doesn't seem like Health Canada is going to budge for Listuguj. The department told Mamit Innuat to use whatever is the cheapest way to accommodate people. And they say the cheapest way is boarding homes. The Department says it will only make exceptions under certain conditions, depending on the medical needs of the community member. After numerous messages to the health director of Listuguj First Nation, Donna Metallic did not return calls on the matter.