Not only were friends and family of Michener Centre residents blindsided in March by the province’s plan to close the centre, the release of related government documents also leaves them in the dark.
Government documents from the period leading up the announcement of the centre’s closure were 80 per cent blacked-out in a recent 130-page Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) request made by Society of Parents and Friends of Michener Centre.
“We are dealing with flesh and bones. We’re not dealing with a bridge. We’re not dealing with a road. So when you make changes in people’s lives like this, it’s critical that everything is transparent,” said Bill Lough, society president, on Thursday.
“The residents who are being forced out and the families who have been thrown into disarray deserve to know who is behind the closure and when the planning began.”
Without any discussion with parents and guardians of Michener residents, the province announced that 125 residents will be relocated starting in September. Fifty of them, who are medically fragile, are to be moved to seniors care facilities. Another 105 residents who already live in Michener Hill group homes will be allowed to stay.
Lough said the FOIP documents show officials were aware of the government’s promise that nobody would be forced to leave Michener and that residents could live there until they died.
An email on March 8 from Blaine Gillis, CEO for the PDD Central Region, to the Deputy Minister of Human Services Steve MacDonald and others pointed out that numerous ministers and premiers over the past 20 years have promised Michener Centre would be there for residents as long as it was the desired option. He notes that commitment was reinforced again in the Moving Ahead report in 2008.
Lough said the readable portion of the FOIP report was mostly several copies of the press release announcing the closure and briefing notes for Associate Minister of Services for Persons with Disabilities Frank Oberle, who made the announcement.
“There is lots of information in there they did not want us privy to. A lot of times they claim they blank it out because it is between private parties.
“It just seems odd to me. Why are you blanking out 80 per cent of the information? What’s the story behind the blanks?”
Lough said the province’s “ham-fisted, cold-hearted” approach to closing Michener was disrespectful.
“Hopefully the public will see what the government has been doing. We believe it has gone too fast. We’re very concerned with the PDD world outside right now. We don’t think that at this point it’s appropriate to be moving anybody until we know who’s available for support services, what support services will be available.
“All we’ve got at the table is assurances. We haven’t seen any hard facts. We haven’t seen any numbers.”
A separate FOIP request by the group showed that since 2008, Michener has had about $6.5 million in renovations done to serve residents and that was a substantial investment, Lough said.
The Michener society is waiting for the results of another FOIP request to find out how much money Alberta Health Services will have to spend to care for the 50 Michener seniors to be transferred to long-term care.
“They are very medically fragile people. We need to know if anyone is transferred into a long-term care bed that the level of care is maintained. We’re not convinced that is the case. Parents have been assured that, but we haven’t seen any hard numbers.”