Four years later and despite an election promise from the Premier, work still hasn’t started on 76 long-term care beds for the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre.

In May of 2018, media members, politicians and hospital representatives gathered in the health centre’s atrium as provincial leadership announced funding to create 76 new long-term care beds for Meno Ya Win, in addition to the 20 beds already in operation at the William A. George facility.

Although it was originally the previous Liberal government’s commitment to create the beds, Ontario Premier Doug Ford promised to fund work at a new facility during his 2018 election campaign while in Sioux Lookout.

Sol Mamakwa Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa at Queen’s Park.

Kiiwetinoong MPP and the NDP’s Treaty Relations and Reconciliation Critic, Sol Mamakwa, is once again asking Ontario why work still hasn’t began, and why they’re leaving Sioux Lookout and Far North communities behind when it comes to accessing proper healthcare.

“If you live in Kiiwetinoong, the wait for a bed is between three and five years. The long-term care bed shortage is forcing elders to go hundreds of kilometers away. Thunder Bay and Fort Frances are very far from home,” said Mamakwa, during Question Period at Queen’s Park on April 14.

“For people in Toronto, this would be like sending your parent to Sudbury or Ottawa. This is very far from their homes. It isolates them from their family, language and their way of life. Meno Ya Win has been asking for years for these desperately needed long-term care beds. When is this government going to hear us?” finished Mamakwa.

With an estimated 30,000 people between the Sioux Lookout community and about 30 First Nation communities who receive healthcare services in the area, only 20 long-term care beds leaves about 1 bed for every 1,500 residents. With a total of 96 beds, this would leave 1 bed for every 310 residents, for a roughly 80 per cent capacity increase.

House Leader for the Progressive Conservatives, Paul Calandra, responded to Mamakwa by confirming that Ontario has allocated funding to create the 76 long-term care beds for Meno Ya Win, but did not elaborate on why work has taken over four years to begin.

“Words are good, but we need action,” said Mamakwa, once again asking Calandra why work hasn’t started.

“It’s been four years. There’s been no movement on the file. It seems that Meno Ya Win hasn’t even heard about this announcement. When is the government going to make good on this promise to the people of Kiiwetinoong?” asked Mamakwa.

Calandra then listed off the future locations of hundreds of long-term care beds that Ontario has committed to build in the province – none of which were in Mamakwa’s Kiiwetinoong riding. Although, the Kenora area is expected to see about 100 new beds.

“Long-term care in Northern Ontario was something that was greatly ignored by the previous government and by the NDP as well when they held the balance of power,” said Calandra. “In order to fix that, we knew that we had to make some serious changes and bring some beds to the north.”

Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win staff and leadership originally applied for the long-term care funding back in 2015, with support from the NDP’s Kenora-Rainy River MPP Sarah Campbell. It’s been seven years since the application, which was approved by the Liberal government back in 2018.

In August of 2018, a few months after the funding announcement, Meno Ya Win staff created a new web portal to track progress on the construction of the new beds. But by May of 2021, the site was no longer active.