‘From the bottoms of our hearts’: Bunibonibee Cree Nation thankful to caregivers of elders with COVID-19

Families of Bunibonibee Cree Nation are thanking all who are caring for the beloved elders who were flown out of the community last week with COVID-19. 

Twenty-two out of the 24 residents at George Colon Care Home in Bunibonibee were flown to Winnipeg last week. Most were taken to the Holy Family Care Home, where there was an empty wing available, and the rest went to hospital.

“I love what they did for them. Continued prayers for our elders,” wrote Oxford House resident Jennifer Chubb-Hart, whose 78-year-old aunt Victoria Carola was among those flown out of the community last week. She said she doesn’t know how she is doing now, but is thankful that she’s getting the care she needs.

“We love her so much.”

Bunibonibee, also known as Oxford House, is a community of about 3,000 roughly 575 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. It has a nursing station, but health resources are limited; the care home does not have a dedicated physician.  

Its pandemic co-ordinator said the elders already have complex medical needs, but when the outbreak hit, it became a matter of life and death. The effort to relocate them was combined between the federal and provincial governments, Bunibonibee chief and council, Perimeter Aviation and regional health authorities, to get them closer to a hospital. 

“We wanted to make sure our residents had the same chance of surviving COVID. We did not feel that having COVID was a reason for them to have to pass and just because they were elderly and frail this did not need to take their life,” said Della Mansoff, pandemic co-ordinator and nurse at George Colon Memorial Home in Oxford House. 

She said Shared Health helped find the space at Holy Family Care Home in Winnipeg, where the elders are receiving round-the-clock care by the six George Colon health-care workers who travelled with them. 

“The residents looked forward to going down. It was a bit of an adventure for them. Everyone’s taken this in stride and [they] realized we’re doing the best by them,” she said.

Most of the residents are recovering and will return to the community in the coming days. However some elders, like Loretta Robinson’s grandmother, are in hospital, fighting to breathe.

“It has been extremely difficult in many ways,” said Robinson, who is also head nurse at George Colon Memorial Home. 

“The most difficult part is losing our loved ones to death due to COVID-19 and not being able to be at their bedsides at the time. I mostly would just like to express my thankfulness to everyone,” she said. 

Robinson said she wants to give thanks to the Holy Family care home and its staff, the federal and provincial governments, the Thompson, Grace and Health Sciences Centre hospitals and all care providers and people across the province who are sending gifts or prayers.

“You know who you are. God will richly bless you.”

Bunibonibee band councillor Howard Grieves went to the Holy Family home on Wednesday evening to help Sheila North, who is from the community, and Kevin Chief, whose organization helps bring sports programming to youth in First Nations, bring gifts to the elders. 

The gift bags included bannock, slippers, mitts, Jets gear and “Welcome to the North End” T-shirts.

‘They’re not forgotten’

“This will touch the elders’ hearts. That they’re being thought of. And that they’re not forgotten. And that they’re getting gifts. There’s some nice slippers there that’ll keep them warm,” said Grieves, who has been co-ordinating the elders’ transition, bereavement and liaising with families back home.

“Deep down to my heart I’d like to thank you guys.”

People deliver gifts of bannock, warm clothing and Winnipeg Jets gear to a group of COVID-19-stricken elders from Bunibonibee Cree Nation, who are isolating almost 600 kilometres away from home at Holy Family nursing home in Winnipeg. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

Most of the elders only speak Cree and not much English, he added.

“They are the heart of the community right. Most of these elders, they were … leaders and … I feel really sad that they have to be relocated away from their families with Christmas coming up. All families are going through a tough time because they’re not with their loved ones.”

One of the elders who was flown out died from the virus this week. Oxford House has lost three people in total to COVID-19.

“We send our deepest condolences. It’s heartbreaking. Especially to see families. It’s just devastating. This virus has taken a toll on many people and many families. Within my family as well,” said Grieves. 

“It’s going fast and we’re doing our best locally, we have a lot of people that are stepping up working and battling against the virus.”

“It’s just been an overwhelming sense of support,” agreed Mansoff. 

She said two residents have returned already, though one of them is receiving compassionate care. Three elders who have recovered will fly home Thursday morning.

She said work is underway with the health authority to get more regular physician coverage in George Colon Memorial Home. She and Robinson wanted to give a special thanks to Dr. Brown, who has been “incredible” in treating and monitoring the patients at the Holy Family Care Home in Winnipeg.

But overall, they said, the residents’ safety and well-being has been a team effort. 

“Thank you all for your hard work, dedication and support. It’s so appreciated and it will never be forgotten,” said Robinson.

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