An open letter to the government of Alberta — advocates, get writing!
I am appalled at the decision to shut down Michener Centre and wonder, yet again, if real (experienced) foresight has gone into this huge move. Rarely have the people making these decisions worked on the front lines in their departments, and it just goes to show yet again, the rashness that becomes us as a result of greedy government.
As someone who has worked in the disability field (group homes, day programs, schools, etc.), I can tell you that ultimately it will be the residents who suffer.
One of the justifications for the closing of Michener is that it will move the residents away from an institution-like setting. While agreed, Michener doesn’t have the best history (my grandparents who were Dutch immigrants in the early 1950s worked there as aides, and a large portion of an ethics class in my Disability Studies program at Mount Royal College dealt with the inhumane treatment of individuals in these early facilities — namely Michener), obviously this is not what’s been going on for say the last 40 to 50 years, nor do any of the residents or their families feel as though they or their loved ones are living in an institution.
If you walk into Michener, you would find a progressive facility that offers many different options to those with disabilities. I’m shocked that the government would even use the term. To use this as a means of turning it into a “positive” makes our province sound barbaric, that we haven’t long been rid of any sort of practices that encourage isolation.
Michener is functioning as a home for over 100 persons with disabilities, who, are free to (and do) enjoy life and with the help of their staff are encouraged to do so to their fullest. As with any residential setting, if there are issues, they are dealt with in a constructive manner. If the government had any sympathy to the abuse, mistreatment and inequality that persons with disabilities faced in institutions, I would have hoped that they would not use this as the main point as to the “why” of closing Michener.
Moving these people out of where they’re comfortable and have routine will be catastrophic. While I mentioned that I worked in the field (for over six years, I’m now 28), I am now employed at a car dealership as a bookkeeper. Why? Because the wages earned by those who have the patience/passion and skills to assist those with disabilities is not only disgraceful, but for individuals such as myself who require insulin (or any expensive prescriptions) and all the other medical supplies that come with Type 1 diabetes, it was a matter of my health versus doing what I love to, and am meant to do!
Benefits are few and far between at agencies, and along with low wages, it became impossible to make ends meet. Many people I went to college with are also in the same position, and like me, are still paying off $20,000 in student loans for a program that the government had no plans of supporting. To not support these programs, and with the pitiful wages paid to non-profits, you are not supporting staff.
How in the world then, do you think that there are going to be enough qualified staff in assisted living facilities to make this transition as smooth as promised.
I will laugh when it blows up in the governments face, but I will cry for those who are left yet again, disappointed by the decisions made by those who really haven’t a clue. The staff at Michener should be commended for their years, yet none of them can be expected to change their job description and take on a totally new role in a home, where policies, shifts, and the mix of clients is completely different.
And if this is not expected of them, where does the government expect these staff will come from? I suspect that there will be an influx of hiring of people with little to no experience, skills, or the background to be able to improve the quality of life of these residents.
Caring for someone with behaviours, aggression or psychosis with no background not only puts the staff in danger, it puts the individual being cared for in an immense amount of danger. Caring for someone without behaviours, but who requires special care, and not having the training is almost a sure-fire way to ensure that the quality of life decreases.
Isn’t that what the government is trying to get away from by closing Michener? By taking residents out of their comfort zones, setting them up with new staff, and ultimately turning their lives upside down, are you not in fact taking away the rights/decisions and fairness for all that we as advocates, family members and friends have worked so hard for in the last 40 years?
Any person in Red Deer likely has a connection to the centre, be it someone they know who works/worked there, maybe they’ve participated in one of the events that are facilitated at the centre, or now, they know that the government has made another rash decision by kicking out “their” people.
Your justifications are weak, and in examining the situation, I don’t think you realize that you are in fact pushing these people further back in the progress that persons with disabilities have made. If the plan is not rethought, at least have the brass to tell it like it is, and admit it’s all about the money, not the people. Shame on you!