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Advocates hope Preston-area nursing home will inspire better Black health care

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Community health workers say recently announced plans for a new nursing home geared toward Black seniors should inspire a network within the Nova Scotia health-care system that is better attuned to the needs of Black people.

Sharon Davis-Murdoch, the co-founder of the Health Association of African Canadians (HAAC), says there’s a need for culturally competent health care for Black patients, including those living in long-term care.

“We heard from Black people who would talk about the need for care that understands their skin, their hair – care that is respectful of them and responsive to the impact of the trauma and the harm that our people have endured,” said Davis-Murdoch .

Her former HAAC counterpart, Veronica Marsman, is the property manager of Akoma Holdings Inc., the non-profit organization that will lease land for the project.

The Nova Scotia government announced last week plans to build a 96-room nursing home on land near the historically Black suburbs of Loon Lake, Cherry Brook, North Preston and East Preston.

Specific needs for care

Elizabeth Obeng Nkrumah, a wellness navigator who works with a health-care service for Black Nova Scotian women called Sisterhood, says she would like to see a concerted effort to hire local community members to work at home.

“They understand where they are coming from, their experiences lived, and also see someone who looks like you brings some peace and safety to whoever is walking into the space,” he said.

Davis-Murdoch also made the case for Black representation among the staff, saying that Black communities have higher rates of certain illnesses that experienced health-care providers of the community would know to look for.

For example, Black Canadians are two times more likely than white Canadians to have diabetes, according to a report by the Public Health Agency of Canada. The agency attributes the discrepancy to systemic inequalities in health determinants, which include education, income and housing.

A aerial view of a forest.
An aerial view of where the nursing home will be built. It is on the property where the former Home for Colored Children once operated. (Communications Nova Scotia)

Obeng Nkrumah says although the house will be open to seniors of all races and ethnicities, he wants to see programming that is Afrocentric.

“I’ve seen that there are a lot of programs in a community that has to do with drumming and music and poetry, and most of our communities are very spiritual, so I do see that there would be a need to have various programs around that.”

Davis-Murdoch also said the goal for the nursing home, and the entire provincial health network system, should be to incorporate anti-racist policy, justice and fairness in its health-care planning.

“What we’re looking for is not a cookie-cutter or a one-size fits all approach. What we’re looking for is an approach … that is available to our people from one end of the province to the other.”

Nursing home scheduled to open in 2025

The nursing home will be built on the same property as the former Home for Colored Children.

The non-profit Northwood will operate the facility, which is meant to allow elders and their families to live closer together.

Premier Tim Houston says it’s expected to open in 2025, a lofty goal amid a shortage of contractors in the Halifax area.

The care home was announced just two days before the premiere called for a byelection in Preston for Aug. 8.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.