Author fears for sister when Michener closes
Lee Kvern has seen Michener Centre at its worst.
As a child, the Okotoks author would visit her sister at the facility notorious for its program of forced sterilization, noticing a one-size-fits-all approach and seeing some 30 people packed into a room, served by three caregivers.
“It was awful. It was institutional living,” she said, “But over the years, Michener has evolved.
“They just started to treat (the residents) as you would anybody else. That’s the evolution I’ve seen. The care my sister has had there the last 15 years — there is no equal to that in the community.”
Kvern’s sister Jody is severely disabled, with the mental capacities of about a three year old. Jody, now 54, was admitted to the centre at age six.
In the early 1990s, though, as the provincial government began a push to move developmentally challenged people from institutionalized care into the community, Jody was put into a group home. She spent nearly a decade in group homes in Sundre and Didsbury, but they were not particularly happy stays.
“My sister went from, at Michener, being a fairly happy-go-lucky kind of person and very affectionate and she got out into the community and just was anxiety-ridden and started having these escalating behaviours that we’d never seen before,” explained Kvern.
The change in behaviour culminated in Jody pulling apart a gas stove in her group home. Four RCMP officers were required to subdue her. After the incident, Jody was temporarily returned to Michener for a medication review.
“She was back there for maybe three days and her behaviours went away ... I was really reluctant about committing her back to Michener (because of my childhood memories), but boy, how she just turned around within days of being back at Michener, I thought, ‘I don’t have to make this decision, my sister’s already made it.’ ”
Kvern said 20 years ago she believed a move into the community would be good for her sister, but now that Michener Centre is slated to close, with the government planning to move its 125 residents into group homes and seniors care facilities, she is deeply concerned for her sister.
What she said her sister experienced in group homes was a high staff turnover and caregivers not trained to deal with severely challenged individuals. While knowing community living works for some individuals, she does not see it working for Jody.
“There’s a family there (at Michener) and it’s not something that can be replicated by staff that isn’t trained and staff that turns over every six months. I think people have an idea of what they think an institution is, and rightfully so, but Michener is not that institution anymore,” said Kvern.
Kvern has spent a good amount of time at Michener. She spent a few weeks at the facility researching for her 2010 novel The Matter of Sylvie, a story of a young girl with severe brain damage.
She spent time with clients, interviewed staff, and came away with a greater appreciation for the services provided. If nothing else, Kvern wishes the government would keep the facility open to allow the 125 residents, many of whom are aged, to live out their golden years there.
In an attempt to change the government’s mind, Kvern has written a letter to the premier and started a petition on www.change.org. Electronic petitions are not allowed to be presented in the Alberta legislature; Kvern said she is learning about the process and may start a written petition as well.
Also, AUPE has created the www.keepmicheneropen.com website to encourage people to write letters to the premier.