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.