Alberta tragedy; Redford’s Michener Centre closure.

If I am to be measured on the political scale, I land pretty strongly on the libertarian side of things. I want to see a minimal amount of government in our lives along with a maximum amount of personal freedoms. People often confuse this sort of outlook with anarchism though which would mean having a truly survival of the fittest sort of world with no boundaries or general social obligations. Anarchism is not reasonable in a modern world.

The scope of ethical obligations that we have as human beings to take care of our neighbors is large and usually very debatable. In the minds of all but the most extreme, we as a society have an obligation to take care of those who CAN’T take care of themselves. The problem that we always have is in defining who actually can’t take care of themselves as opposed to those who won’t take care of themselves.

There is very little to debate in the above regard when it comes to the status of the remaining 125 or so residents of the Michener Centre in Red Deer. These Albertans are afflicted with serious developmental disabilities and they will always be in need of the kind of specialized care that they are getting in the Michener Centre. Despite what appears to pretty much anybody as as self-evident need in societal care that had been provided by the facility, the Redford government has unexpectedly decided to close Michener Centre and displace every one of it’s residents.

In a zeal and rush to close the facility, the government has issued some pretty weak statements essentially trying to paint Michener Centre as being some nasty sort of institution where residents are languishing in misery while separated from society. The sterilizations that ended over 40 years ago are mentioned and it is implied that the place is right from a scene in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. It is blathered over and over again that residents will simply be placed in the “community” though it is not really specified just what that will mean.

Last week I attended a meeting held by “Friends of Michener Centre” in Calgary. This group was formed by concerned family members who have loved-ones living at the facility. It was both informative and heartbreaking to hear from those who have had to deal the most directly in caring for people with serious developmental disabilities. The challenges faced by and the strength demonstrated by the families of Michener Centre residents came through clearly in that couple hours. It is sad that not a single one of Redford’s MLAs could come to that meeting as they would have been able to get a better image of what damage is being wrought by their thoughtless decision to close Michener Centre.

One theme that was constant as people shared their stories is how each Michener Centre resident’s needs and circumstances were quite unique and how critical consistency of care is for each of them. One lady spoke of how her brother been bumped from group home to group home until after putting a chair through a window he was finally admitted into Michener Centre for the last 17 years of his life. While in Michener Centre this man got to settle in and a caring staff learned to deal with his unique and special needs. The stability he needed only came upon getting into a facility such as Michener Centre.

The gentleman hosting the meeting told an interesting story of his brother who had been a Michener Centre resident. His brother had been admitted to hospital with a respiratory infection and while in there staff was mystified with why he would not open his mouth to eat. This was during the H1N1 outbreak so staff were outfitted with full infection control outfits. While those outfits could discomfort pretty much anybody if unfamiliar with them, they were outright terrifying to the poor fellow with a serious developmental disability. Of course he would not let these alien people feed him. The staff were not in the wrong of course, they simply did not understand that unique circumstances of the gentleman they had in their care. The story again drives home why consistency and specialized facilities and staff are so essential for people with serious PDDs.

After the meeting, I decided to look further into things. I tracked down and spoke with a couple people who had each worked at and around Michener Center for over 30 years each. The stories were not of a place with terrible institutional abuses and misery. The picture painted is one of a facility that was a community in itself that went to great pains to create the best conditions possible for their clients. One of the best was in hearing how one of the clients was of Asian decent so staff sought out Asian themed decorations for his room (and they sought to decorate to please all of their residents of course). This reminds one that Michener Centre is not an acute care facility, it is a home to the residents and should remain so. On the sadder side, I was told of funerals for some residents that passed away which were only attended by staff as these people had no remaining family outside of the facility. Think of what moving these people will do to them.

Having a centralized facility such as Michener Centre allows for more specialized services to be maintained and developed as well. Having doctors and pharmacists on site allows for much better diagnosis, prescribing and monitoring of medications as many clients needed medications. Dental and other care is provided on site as well in ways that never could be done for persons with serious developmental disabilities in a smaller group-home setting. I was told that people from outside group homes are brought to Michener Centre for their dental care as most dentists will not treat them or don’t have the skills required to do so. Where will they go now?

As was driven home at the meeting, Michener Centre is a community and a family. Driving the residents out of there is a needless and possibly catastrophic disruption to these people. It has been said that many of the residents will be sent to seniors care facilities. Really? Are seniors centers really able to care for these people with such special needs? Do they have the space or the resources? What will this do to seniors already residing in those facilities? This just sounds utterly senseless.

In driving around the Michener Centre grounds last weekend, it could be seen that some facilities are getting a bit dated (though hardly dysfunctional). The campus is very large though and if anything we should be investing to expand and improve the facilities for people with PDDs rather than driving them out and scattering them.

Michener Centre is on 300 acres of pretty prime land in Red Deer. While nothing has been confirmed, there are many rumors about plans for that land once it is vacated. Sadly in that context, one can see the underlying motivation in the Redford government’s zeal to displace these most vulnerable of Alberta’s citizens. If the efforts to save the Michener Centre fail, we must watch very carefully to see just what Redford (along with friends and family) does with the land. Why else would her government rip into this facility having so recently promised never to do so (though broken promises from Redford are hardly few or unexpected).

The closure of Michener Centre is not a done deal yet. If enough people stand up and demonstrate a backlash, I do think Redford will back down on this closure. Redford never apologizes or admits wrong, but she will quietly kill initiatives that prove to harm her political well-being and that is all that matters. Alison Redford will be lucky to survive the wrath of her own party at this fall’s leadership review. She is very sensitive to public pressure right now so let’s exert it.

There is a facebook page for Friends of Michener Centre here. Give the page a like and look around for more information on upcoming actions and events.

Call or write your MLA to express how this closure is a mistake. It may not feel like it but they really do notice when public ire is rising on something. That will only happen if we speak up of course. Be sure to encourage others to speak up on this as well.

Finally, one can attend a rally on April 10, in support of Michener Centre. This is being organized by the AUPE with details in the picture below. When you see me promoting something being organized by a union, you know something serious is happening.


Let’s let Redford know that she is really crossing the line on this one.

13 thoughts on “Alberta tragedy; Redford’s Michener Centre closure.

  1. very well written- direct and to the point, we could take some pointers from this advocacy/activism. the key is pressure. keep up the “persistence” and never accept it as being “resistance”!! the staff and residence are inseparable and the staff are irreplaceable. hold tight to your beliefs! all the best.

  2. In the past, some of the people who encouraged the closing of these types of facilities were folks who had children with developmental disabilities. They wanted to see their children integrated into the public school system etc. Unfortunately, some of those children are now adults who do not have good options for places to live or a community to belong to. The facilities that got closed down my have been good options for these people.

  3. Fortunate for Alison Redford her popularity had dropped from 40 + % to 27-29%. So all I can say is, pack your bags an prepare to move on PC Gov’t…….you’ve pushed and abused AB to far. Your blatant disrespect for this provinces citizens and we are fed up with your wayward spending and your lame decision making. And any PC’s left who have voted with Alison Redford by next election, will likely NOT be re-elected. IN other-wards, YOUR ON NOTICE too! Closing the Michener Centre has gone too far! Not only have you put the residents of Michener Centre at risk, you’ve placed the public at risk! Intentionally!!!!! And who’s family member will buy this prime piece of land?

  4. I worked with a few former Michener residents and I think they were better off in the community. The facility is quite large, and I don’t see how its size is necessary to serve the remaining ~120 residents. I understand that these folks may have adjustment issues when moved into group homes, but keeping Michener Centre open just for the sake of keeping it open is absurd. The first priority of the Centre was always to serve these people, and if their needs are better met elsewhere, so be it. There are excellent alternatives in the community and hundreds of former residents living in those facilities are proof of that.

    To put it differently, I’d suggest that these claims that the remaining residents of the Centre can’t handle the change is really just a way for the rest of us to obfuscate our own fear of change.

  5. Has Alison Redford ever had any contact with the remaining people at Michener? They are the most needy of care and most will not fit into an
    already occupied facility for the elderly. The poor older folks would probably
    be afraid of a lot of them. What a terrible idea to close Michener down.Makes no sense!!!!!

  6. I was a nurse at Michener Center for 20 yrs. nd i know without doubt that those clients will never ever get better care anywhere. They will never be able to function or even be happy in any other setting .We cannot take them away from their homes, their community their excellent caregivers. Please find a better way to deal with these so called issues, and leave these people where it is absolutely the best place on the planet for them to be. which is where they are now.Thank you

    • It shouldn’t only be about care… it should be about people having the right to live good lives doing the things they want to do. Having a choice when they eat, what they eat, where they go, who they live with, what they do in their day – all the things you and I have the right to do. If you think it’s such a good place to live – go live there.

  7. I recently returned from a vacation in the United states and while channel surfing noticed Allison Redford discussing the benefits for both the citizens of the US and those of canada for the pipeline to carry the heavy oil to the refineries in the Southerns States. She was ensuring those opposed to this pipeline that the Alberta provincial government would ensure the safety standards are followed and that they care about people in these areas and that they have nothing to be afraid of. Of course she pointed out the number of jobs that would be created during construction, I however doubt she would want them to know that she doesnt even care about the citizens of this Province and is willing to break promises that were made prior to her re-election. This current government is willing to put the most vulnerable people at risk and refuse to listen to people`s concerns. We have our senior citizens who have made this province what it is today being shipped off to care facilities without any regard for how family members will be able to visit thier loved ones. They have lied to the families that still have loved ones in the Michener facility and say they know best. I really think that those protesteing this pipeline would be interested to know just how this Premier treats her own citizens and that prehaps they do have reason to be concerned.

  8. Years ago I worked in a group home with a young man who was subsequently placed in the Migchner center. I did 48 hour shifts with that young man and it was incredibly difficult, I was told that when he went to the bathroom I had to be in there with him, he was unpredictable, destructive and I was told that it was impossible to tell him anything, teach him anything or take him anywhere and sadly that was true, those 48 hour shifts still haunt me. I concluded that only a team of committed workers would be able to handle him and was relieved that he had been moved to the Mitchner centuer where he would relieve proper and compassionate care. Now what, who is going to end up doing 48 hour shifts with him again. This government does some disturbing things but closing the Mitchner center is outright cruel.

  9. Years ago I worked in a group home with a young man who was subsequently placed in the Mitchner center. I did 48 hour shifts with that young man and it was incredibly difficult, I was told that when he went to the bathroom I had to be in there with him, he was unpredictable, destructive and I was told that it was impossible to tell him anything, teach him anything or take him anywhere and sadly that was true, those 48 hour shifts still haunt me. I concluded that only a team of committed workers would be able to handle him and was relieved that he had been moved to the Mitchner center where he would recieve proper and compassionate care. Now what, who is going to end up doing 48 hour shifts with him again. This government doe s some disturbing things but closing the Mitchner center is outright cruel.

    • I have known two people who spent quite a bit of their lives at that prison called Mitchner. I cannot call it a good place or a bad place but I can say that any enivrionment that does not or will not give people a right to choose what they want in life or causes pain to them have alot of explaining to do. They better figure it out DAMN FAST!

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