When Reggie Shanush finished his medical appointment, he left all his belongings in his hotel room on the second floor – even his prosthetic leg, which had been hurting him. After spending most of the afternoon in the Hotel Continental’s downstairs lobby in Val-d’Or, he discovered that the elevator was now broken.
“I asked, how am I going to get my stuff?” recalled Shanush. “They said, we’re going to fix the elevator. Later in the evening when I asked again, they said we’re not fixing it – you can have a room downstairs. I said, okay, but who’s going to get my stuff? They said, you’ve got to look for somebody to get it for you.”
Shanush was without an escort in Val-d’Or and unable to find anyone to help him. He spent the night in the downstairs room but with an imminent departure back home to Eastmain, he had no choice but to take matters into his own hands early in the morning.
“I crawled up the stairs,” Shanush told the Nation. “I had no leg on one side, my other leg was sore, and I crawled up the stairs all the way to my room. When I got there, I put my leg on, packed my stuff and went downstairs. I had no choice but to crawl up and get it myself.”
Shanush described the difficulty of using his knee to lift himself up the stairs as more awkward than painful but is still incredulous that nobody would help a man with clear mobility issues. Diabetes resulted in his leg being amputated from the knee down in 2017 and he has just had a knee replacement on his other leg.
With his pills, clothes, phone and other possessions upstairs, Shanush was left with just his wheelchair. The people at the front desk he asked for help seemed otherwise preoccupied even though one went for 10 minutes at some point to attend to someone in the bar. So he waited around until 1:00 am, having dinner and smoking cigarettes in the back.
“I know what they’re going to say – I should have had an escort,” Shanush confided. “It’s hard to find an escort when you don’t know how long you’re going to be – they have families too. I came because I didn’t want to miss this (knee) operation. I’ve waited three years and I’m not going to wait another three. That’s why I came alone.”
Wiichihiituwin (formerly Cree Patient Services) is the department of the Cree Health Board responsible for coordinating appointments and other travel logistics for clients requiring medical services outside their home communities. Val-d’Or receives the most patients of the four service points, with 12,371 patients and escorts arriving in the 2017-18 fiscal year.
“The Cree Health Board regrets this incident and will follow up with hotel management,” stated Helen B. Shecapio-Blacksmith, Director of Wiichihiituwin Services, CBHSSJB. “Our clients who are staying in hotels in Val-d’Or should be treated with the same consideration as any other hotel guest.”
Although clients who are mobility-impaired are supposed to have an escort, Shanush explained that he only found an escort for his return trip toward the end of his stay at the Continental. This was his third time at the hotel since being moved from previous accommodation at Val-d’Or’s Native Friendship Centre.
“I stayed at the Friendship Centre once, but I had a hard time,” recalled Shanush. “I stayed there before I had my wheelchair – I fell out from the elevator once and my (prosthetic) leg fell off. Cree Patient Services moved me to the hotel after that – I had no choice but to stay here because where else am I going to go?”
Hotel Continental is the only hotel in downtown Val-d’Or, providing easier access to services like Shanush’s physiotherapy sessions following his knee operation. Despite some issues with his wheelchair not fitting through bathroom doors and occasionally getting locked out when he goes for smoke breaks, Shanush seemed generally content with the hotel’s services and staff and intends to stay until his medical appointments are completed in August.
“Maybe it was the wrong staff at the wrong time or something like that,” Shanush offered as an explanation. “If you’re a cook, you got to know CPR too just in case things happen. That’s how it should be with the staff too – if you see a guy in need, you help them out. They should have more respect for people in wheelchairs.”
Suzanne Leduc, Hotel Continental’s general manager, was surprised to hear of Shanush’s troubles and said she is in regular contact with Wiichihiituwin to optimize their services. She explained that while patients are given priority for first floor rooms, other arrangements are sometimes necessary for busier nights.
“My priority is the Cree Health Board because they are our biggest client,” Leduc told the Nation. “For me, its almost impossible that we say no – we’re here to help them. We always ask if they have a request for elderly or wheelchair to make sure that when we reserve the room we have all their needs. I’m trying to figure out what happened.”
While Shanush suggested he could have been more assertive and complained to management, he believes that greater consideration should be given to clients with mobility issues.
“Now when I returned last week, they asked me where I wanted to stay,” Shanush said. “I said I wasn’t going to stay upstairs no more because of the problem I had. They shouldn’t put anybody upstairs with a wheelchair, just in case something happens. If it was me running the hotel, I wouldn’t – what if the elevator doesn’t work? I won’t stay on the second floor any more, in any hotel.”