Michener Centre closure leaves unanswered questions

The announcement that Michener Centre will close by next January leaves many unanswered questions.

The announcement that Michener Centre will close by next January leaves many unanswered questions.

The province has yet to say where residents will be placed, what jobs will be lost, which buildings will be decommissioned and what will happen to the land.

The closure was announced Monday to friends and family of Michener Centre residents, many of whom pledged to oppose the decision to close the 90-year-old institution for people with developmental disabilities.

Tuesday many other views were expressed on the impact of the closure on residents, workers and the city of Red Deer.

Red Deer Conservative MLAs, Cal Dallas in the south and Mary Anne Jablonski in the north, said on Tuesday that residents will be better off in community agency-run group homes.

“The fact remains that institutional care is a method of providing services that’s well documented, (but) they’re better in a home-type environment,” said Dallas, cautioning “It’s early to make presumptions about the impacts. This transition will take some time.”

Jablonski said that with best practices and scientific evidence, it was better for everyone to close both sides of the centre.

Michener Centre, which comprises over 300 acres, is located between 30th and 40th Avenues in Red Deer. It has a north and south site, located one kilometre part.

The chief executive officer of Parkland Community Living and Supports Society (CLASS) agrees with the two MLAs.

“I applaud the Redford government for addressing the issue that has been very challenging for the past two decades,” said Phil Stephan, whose organization provides housing and staff to serve about 150 developmentally disabled Central Albertans.

“This isn’t a new development. We’ve been moving people into new community services for 22 years.”

The province announced Monday that 75 of Michener Centre’s 125 residents on site will be moved to group homes, and the rest to seniors care facilities. About 75 are already in Michener Hill group homes. Individual transition plans will be done with Michener’s north and south site residents placed by next January.

Jablonski said the closure isn’t about money.

“There won’t be any (operational) savings in the first year and any savings stay with the Persons with Developmental Disabilities budget and won’t go into general revenues.”

Alberta Human Services spokesperson Cheryl Chichak said $10 million is budgeted for “instances of where we’ll need to build capacity.

“The plan is to move people into community-supported living arrangements run by local agencies.”

Stephan said his organization wouldn’t face a “formidable challenge” if asked to provide support.

“We’ve been very active in the past with the folks from Michener who’ve moved out. We’re very careful that we respect the wishes and desires of the families and, more particularly, of the individual.”

Bruce Uditsky, the Alberta Association for Community Living’s CEO, said family concerns for residents are understandable, but “thousands have preceded them” for successful lives in the community.

“It’s not an imminent change. All Albertans want this to be done well.”

The closure is certain to mean job losses. The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees anticipates as many as 400 of Michener’s 640 staff will be laid off, redeployed or retrained.

“It’s going to be a shift in employment,” said Mayor Morris Flewwelling, adding any loss of jobs isn’t good for the city.

Dallas said part of Michener’s “proud history” is “the love and care provided to the residents.

“To every degree possible, the folks providing services there have been valued and there’ll be an announcement about them and the agency sector supporting them.”

Flewwelling said the city and province’s joint planning have worked well in the past, citing Michener Centre’s administration building redevelopment and Extendicare zoning and construction.

“They have agreed to work with us on any plans they have so we’re not blindsided or crippled or compromised.”

What happens to Michener’s 300 acres and its buildings won’t be decided any time soon. Spokesperson Tracey Larsen said Alberta Infrastructure’s general process determines whether any government department requires them. If not, they could be demolished, leased, repurposed or sold.

“It’s too soon to say. We haven’t even looked at the future of the facility. It’s not going to be empty for another year.”

Dallas said once residents are out next year, “we’ll have a conversation about any number of uses for the lands.”

Jablonski echoed that, adding “The city always said that would be a good place for more affordable housing. The city will be involved in any consultations.”

Flewwelling said the city would have the right of first refusal to purchase the land,” adding it would likely need some environmental clean-up and some new underground services.

rfiedler@bprda.wpengine.com