Premier Jim Prentice said today that Michener Centre will remain open.
He made the announcement in a news conference at Michener Centre this morning.
The decision comes after months of calls to keep the centre open from family members, other political parties and even Red Deer Progressive Conservative MLA Mary Anne Jablonski.
The cries to halt the closure became more vehement after reports that five Michener Centre residents died within months of their transfers.
The Red Deer centre houses the severely developmentally disabled. The government of former premier Alison Redford announced its gradual closure in March 2013.
“All Michener residents will be permitted to live out their remaining years in the place that has long been their home among people whose embrace they have enjoyed for many years,” Prentice said.
“We have seen the dedication and caring that our frontline staff have for all Michener residents. We respect, and are grateful for, the work of staff and the disabilities community to provide these residents with housing options and to move closer to their families in modern community living only when they are ready to do so.”
Jablonski said she was elated.
Heather Klimchuk, minister of Human Services, said: “To date, 46 former Michener residents have transitioned to community living.”
Klimchuk also said Alberta Infrastructure is working closely with the community on future site planning and this consultation and planning process will continue.
The remaining residents will be housed in a consolidated setting on the south side of the site.
Residents who were moved out since the March 2013 announcement will be allowed to return if they and their guardians wish.
“We’re pleased the new premier understands the value in Michener Centre and that he’s willing to live up to the province’s 2008 promise to keep Michener open for those who wish to stay,” said Alberta Union of Provincial Employees’ secretary treasurer Jason Heistad in a release.
“Many living at Michener have been there most of their lives. They now know they can stay and that’s made them and their loved ones very, very happy.”
Heistad said the past year and a half has been tremendously difficult.
“The announcement to suddenly close Michener without any consultation was shocking,” said Heistad. “Those living at Michener are among the most vulnerable in our province. They need the support only Michener Centre and its staff can provide. To take all that away with no warning, after the government promised residents they could stay, was cruel and it didn’t sit right with people.”
Scores of community members attended rallies in support of Michener Centre in Red Deer and Edmonton, thousands put up lawns signs in support of Michener and Keep Michener Open volunteers marched in Red Deer’s Westerner Days parade in July 2013 and 2014. A variety of public groups, including Red Deer city council, asked the province to keep the centre open.
Wildrose Human Services and Seniors critic Kerry Towle said: “Today’s news is a monumental victory for the residents of Michener Centre, their families and all those who fought so hard to have the decision to close the facility reversed.”
But the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA souned a note of caution: “It is my sincere hope that the PC government has seen the error of its ways and that this is not merely a decision made for political reasons. It’s imperative that the PCs learn why closing Michener was the wrong decision in the first place to make sure nothing like this happens again.”
More details to follow.