Opposition to the province’s plan to close Michener Centre is gaining momentum.
About 100 relatives, employees and friends of Michener residents met Tuesday in Red Deer at the first of three meetings that will be held around the province this week organized by the Society of Parents and Friends of Michener Services.
On March 11, the province announced that 75 of Michener Centre’s 125 residents will be moved to group homes, and 50 medically fragile residents will be moved to seniors care facilities.
About 110 residents are already living in Michener Hill group homes.
Donna Toma, of Leduc, said Albertans have to speak up for residents who are losing the only home they have ever known, residents like her sister who is now 50 and has lived at Michener since she was six.
“Group homes are very good for people who can function in the community, who have the cognitive ability to do certain functions. Let’s be very clear. My sister doesn’t know what day it is,” Toma said after the meeting held at the Sheraton Hotel Tuesday night.
“I know how she’s going to react. Residents like her, who don’t know what’s going on, will curl up in a ball. They will refuse to eat. They will become listless. And it’s not just for a month and they’ll get over it.”
Art Gagne, of Red Deer, said his brother Denis, who is in his 50s and has been at Michener Centre since he was about four, needs the structure of care that he receives at Michener.
“He needs someone to look after him,” said Gagne about his brother who is severely autistic.
“I don’t think he’ll accept change. It won’t be good for him. I know that for a fact.”
He said his brother, who is non-communicative, has done well at Michener where he is comfortable with the people around him. He doesn’t do well when there are strangers around.
“I am just so upset with the government for just springing this on us. I can’t believe the government would do something as awful as this,” Gagne said.
“There was no discussion about it. I know they agreed to leave it open for the people who are there and just out of the blue say — no we’re not going to do that anymore.
Moving residents will begin in September and the target is to have all of them moved by January 2014.
Red Deer Public Schools superintendent Piet Langstraat attended the meeting to speak up against the province’s decision as a citizen.
He said even though the school district has eliminated many of its congregated programs for special needs students, some are still in place.
“Eleven congregated programs remain because I know, that as leader of that organization, that not every child can function to the best of their capability in an integrated setting. I know that about children, and I know that about adults,” Langstraat said.
Red Deer North Mary Anne Jablonski, who came to the meeting and faced some angry words, said she understood why the government’s decision is hard for people who believe so strongly in Michener Centre.
But she has been assured that residents will be moved with care and consideration.
“(Associate Minister of Services for Persons with Disabilities Frank Oberle) has assured me that we will have good and proper care for the people who have to move into the community into group homes,” Jablonski said.
Kerry Towle, Wildrose MLA for Innifail-Sylvan Lake, who was also at the meeting, offered her assistance to Michener supporters.
In an adjoining hotel room where Alberta Union of Provincial Employees were meeting, members could be heard through the wall cheering loudly to save Michener.
AUPE members intend to hold a Michener rally.
Bill Lough, president of Society of Parents and Friends of Michener Services, said government continues to call Michener an institution.
“The ‘i’ word is not appropriate to what we know Michener is,” Lough said.
“Michener is a community, has been a community for years.”
He said the fight to save Michener Centre for existing residents will be moving to the legislature at the invitation of one of the opposition parties and he encouraged Albertans to demand to talk to their MLAs.
“Two weeks ago, we had no hope. We have hope now.”