Deaths of former Michener Centre residents shock MLA

Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski is calling on her government to stop moving developmentally disabled residents out of Michener Centre after word spread last week that five former residents have died.

Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski is calling on her government to stop moving developmentally disabled residents out of Michener Centre after word spread last week that five former residents have died.

All five died this spring and summer within two to four months of leaving Red Deer’s Michener.

So far, 43 residents have been moved since the province announced in March 2013 that it would close older buildings on Michener’s north and south sides, forcing the relocation of 120 of severely developmentally disabled residents.

On Sunday, Jablonski posted the following message on the Friends of Michener Facebook page:

“I am shocked with the number of deaths of my constituents since they have been moved out of Michener,” wrote Jablonski, who is on vacation.

“I have asked Premier (Dave) Hancock for an immediate moratorium on the transfers of our residents and an investigation into these deaths. I am awaiting his reply and will inform you of his response.”

The Facebook page also named the residents who died:

l Barry Gordon Hobbs, 64, who was moved from Michener Centre on March 20, died on July 31 in Lacombe.

l Thomas Eastman, 67, who was moved on March 13, died on July 9 in Grande Prairie.

l Merton Henry Klippert, 69, who was moved on April 24, died on July 5 in Calgary.

l Orville Culbert, 54, who was moved on March 20, died on July 15 in Lacombe.

l Freida Lafferty, 64, who was moved on April 3, died on June 4 in Yellowknife, N.W.T.

Lee Kvern, whose sister has lived at Michener for 42 years, said Freida Lafferty’s death in June should have been a red flag.

“They didn’t pause. They didn’t halt. They didn’t change any of the transitioning procedures. Four more deaths may have been prevented had they done something when they knew about Freida,” Kvern said on Monday.

Eleven per cent of residents who have been moved so far have died.

“Isn’t it at least suitable or reasonable that you would stop the transitioning and see what’s going on, see what’s not working, what’s going wrong?”

Alberta Human Services plans to move 80 more residents and a push is on the close buildings on the north side in early September, she said.

The plan is to close the centre in December.

Kvern, whose 56-year-old sister lives on the south side, said families of remaining residents live in absolute fear that their loved ones will also die quickly if forced to leave the place many have called home for most of their lives.

She said families are sticking together and won’t sign anything to allow the moves.

Kvern said she has emailed Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar requesting a meeting with him before the end of the week.

“Basically I’ve told him that if I haven’t heard from his office within a couple of days, that I’m looking into legal representation for my sister. I’m not risking her life by having her evicted from her home.”

Orville Culbert’s brother Cliff said his younger brother had serious health problems, but he was always able to fight his way back to health.

“He died of a broken heart,” said Cliff Culbert, 74, of Hodgeville, Sask.

“It would be no different than you or me sitting at home and the government coming in and saying, ‘OK, you can’t be with your family and friends anymore. You’re coming with me.’ What a shock, wouldn’t it be?”

Culbert said his brother was running a high temperature for a couple of days before he died at the Lacombe Hospital and Care Centre, where he was moved.

“I’m not running the facility down at all. The place is clean. The nurses were fantastic there. The people were very friendly. I honestly believe he was getting the best care he could get at a facility. It was a mistake made by the government to move somebody out of their environment. It was just wrong.”

Orville lived at Michener for about 37 years.

His brother said he didn’t want Orville moved but felt pressured by Alberta Human Services.

To say the move had nothing to do with his death is “stretching it,” his brother said.

“Even in a roundabout way, it had something to do with it.”

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