Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees are working on a plan to keep some buildings on the south side of Michener Centre open to residents, in addition to the centre’s group homes.
Now they just need the Redford government’s approval to keep buildings open.
In March, the province announced that 125 residents in buildings on the north and south sides will close and residents relocated. Fifty of them, who are medically fragile, are to be moved to seniors care facilities.
Of the 224 people still living at Michener, 104 will be supported in 23 Michener Services residential group homes.
As of October, 120 residents still need to move into community settings.
On Thursday, Jablonski presented a petition in the legislature to keep Michener Centre open with 15,744 signatures.
In the spring, opposition parties presented the petition with 8,500 signatures.
“You put that altogether — that’s 24,000 citizens in this province that want Michener to remain open. I don’t think the union is being unreasonable in the compromise that they have offered,” Jablonski said.
“There are some people that I think are better off staying at Michener because it’s been their home for over 40 years. They don’t know anything else. They get great care there, my constituents. So I’m standing up for them.”
Knowing some residents will decide to leave, the number of residents that could live in south side buildings is yet to be determined.
The majority of the buildings on the north side are older and those that need maintenance.
“We want to make sure all those who want to stay at Michener are able to,” said AUPE vice-president Jason Heistad, who represents Michener workers and was at the legislature for the presentation of the petition.
“I give Mary Anne Jablonski credit that she’s willing to keep the south side open and we’re willing to work with her.”
He said Thursday was a monumental day for Michener Centre supporters.
“We hope we have some traction with those petitions and working with Mary Anne,” Heistad said.
Jablonski said with the highly trained and experienced staff at Michener it would make sense to keep those with the highest needs, however there are also some families that insist their loved ones stay at Michener regardless of their condition.
She said the promise to keep Michener open to those who chose to remain there was made by former premier Ralph Klein. Both the residents and staff know at some point it is going to close.
The average age of residents at Michener is 60.
“It’s the timing right now, that is of concern. I always expected it would be closed when we had fewer people living at Michener.”
Jablonski said she has passed on the plan to keep the south side open to officials. But at this time, the province is standing by its decision to close down both the north and south sides, but keep the group homes open.
“There’s been a lot of pressure to close Michener. This is part of the response to best practices around the world. I know and I understand why our government has to make this decision. And I support that. It’s the timing.”
Jablonski said funding has been allocated to build new group homes for Michener residents who would move into the community. But then the flood happened in Calgary and Southern Alberta.
“A lot of our contractors are super busy so we can’t have things built as quickly as we want them to be built. We have to wait in line.”
That wait could provide an opportunity to delay the relocation of 120 Michener residents, she said.
“I’m not expecting any announcements, but you never know.”