A decision by the province to eliminate funding to a camp for developmentally disabled Albertans on Gull Lake has guardians of Michener Centre residents fearing service cuts won’t end there.
This week, a letter from Alberta Community and Social Services to Michener Centre families said, “The Government of Alberta has made the difficult decision to discontinue staffing and long-term funding supports for Camp L.G. Barnes.
“As Michener residents have aged and their health needs have changed, the numbers of camp visits have decreased. Over time, the camp has served more individuals from the community and surrounding area than from Michener Centre.
“With fewer Michener residents attending Camp L.G. Barnes, it no longer makes sense to provide staffing and funding for camp operations.”
Seventy per cent of campers are no longer from Michener Centre.
Camp L.G. Barnes’ buildings and land are owned by Parents and Friends of Michener Society. The province provides four staff and operating funds to the facility in partnership with the society.
Guardian Lee Kvern said her sister Jody, 62, who lives at Michener Centre, regularly visited the fully accessible camp, which has everything that people with severe disabilities need.
“Any kind of complex disability, they can accommodate out there. She can’t go to regular campsites. They need the campsite to be tailored to her and what she can handle in terms of people and noise,” Kvern said.
“There’s just so few options for people with disabilities who are disruptive in regular places. (Camp L.G. Barnes) is such a prize. It’s phenomenal.”
Alberta Community and Social Services said it is working with the society to discuss next steps to transition the camp’s operations over to them. It remains to be seen how the society will choose to proceed.
“Existing staff can better serve Michener residents in other roles and we will make every effort to redeploy these employees to equivalent front-line positions and follow the terms of the collective agreement,” the statement said.
In the summer, a specialized dental clinic for the disabled was shut down at Michener, forcing residents and other central Alberta patients to seek dental care in other cities.
Kvern said the province seems determined to eliminate all the services that make Michener a foremost facility in Alberta.
“They are throwing my sister into unfamiliar territory. She can’t deal with it. She doesn’t have the capacity to deal with people she doesn’t know,” said Kvern about Jody, who has the developmental capacity of a three-year-old child and has lived at Michener for 43 years.
The letter from Alberta Community and Social Services said, “the decision to discontinue funding L.G. Barnes at this time does not in any way signal the closure of Michener Services.”
In 2014, the province’s Progressive Conservative government reversed its decision to close Michener after families and the community challenged the pending closure.
Kvern said she believes the UCP government will not close Michener because former premier Jim Prentice promised not to, but they certainly want to.
Shutting Michener would eliminate the cost of unionized staff and government liability. The province is currently reviewing government-run group homes elsewhere in the province, similar to the Michener model.
“We’re nervous because they’re not listening to their guardians. We’re nervous if they go down, if they are privatized …” said Kvern.