TIMMINS -- One of northeastern Ontario's only dedicated francophone nursing homes addressed the importance of French-language long-term care at a regional NDP town hall Friday.

Area MPPs Guy Bourgouin and Gilles Bisson called the meeting to discuss the party's plan to overhaul the province's long-term care system, which would include adding more French-speaking facilities.

"They have the feeling of security and also a feeling that they feel at home," said Joelle Lacroix, administrator at Foyer de Pionniers Nursing Home in Hearst. "It's always easier to talk your first language when you're older or vulnerable."

While some homes in the region do have French-speaking staff, Lacroix said having a facility where people are able to engage in French culture adds to that sense of home and community.

Forces difficult choices

Bourgouin, representing Mushkegowuk-James Bay, said the lack of Francophone nursing homes in a region housing around 20 per cent of the province's 620,000 Franco-Ontarians, means having to choose between staying close to family and having comfortable living.

He recounted having to make that difficult decision when moving his mother from Wawa to Hearst.

"It takes (people) away from their community," Bourgouin said. "If they want to go with Francophone (living), they're very limited."

The NDP's plan would phase out all private operators in the long-term care system, focus on adding smaller, residential-style homes as a more manageable way to curb waitlist issues in the system and address the shortage of personal support workers.

Major issues in the area

Lacroix said those are major issues in her area as well, saying her facility has at least 60 people waiting for an open spot and the home has been asking for 12 more beds since 2014.

"Often they wait four years at Notre-Dame Hospital," she said. "They have the time to die before being admitted here. They don't deserve that."

Bisson said the ideal solution to the backlog would be to invest more into home care, which is on his party's agenda.

But he said it's a multi-layered issue.

"People don't want to be in long-term care institutions if they don't need to but, if so, we need to have a system that increases the level of care," Bisson said.

Party leader Andrea Horwath hasn't commented on whether she will try to collaborate with the current government on this plan, nor has the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

What's certain for Lacroix is that the province's aging population requires proper care.

"They are our pioneers and they should be better treated," said Lacroix.