The following was submitted on behalf of Frank Oberle, Alberta’s associate minister of Services for Persons with Disabilities, Mary Anne Jablonski, MLA, Red Deer North, and Cal Dallas, MLA, Red Deer South:
Michener Services has long been a presence in Red Deer and area and we would like to thank the many Albertans who have contacted us regarding the transition of adults with developmental disabilities from the North and South Michener sites to appropriately supported living in the community.
Over the years, as the resident population declined and buildings were decommissioned, much discussion has taken place about the future of the facilities and the surrounding land. The population in the north and south site facilities at Michener has declined from over 2,000 to the approximately 125 individuals who live there today. As this transition was occurring, there have been significant changes in philosophy and delivery of care in North America. As a result, this type of institutional residential support model is no longer the best practice in supporting people with disabilities.
The strategies and approaches in supporting people with a wide range of disabilities have evolved over the years. There is compelling evidence that smaller living arrangements can produce positive results for these individuals, including those who might be considered severely disabled.
We have done similar transitions recently with both the Eric Cormack Centre in Edmonton and Youngstown Home in Central Alberta. In both cases, families were understandably apprehensive at first, but we worked very closely with the individuals, their families, guardians, service providers, and the local communities and we succeeded in moving the individuals into community homes where they are doing very well.
Many of these Albertans have surprised their families and support staff with the gains in functional skills they made after moving out of a facility and into a community living model of support.
We do recognize that each person is unique, and we will be vigilant in monitoring services and individual experiences.
The decision to close these buildings was not taken lightly, and central to our decision and future planning is the well-being and care of these individuals. A PDD planning team will spend the next several months working with guardians and family members to develop individual transition plans that address accommodation, health services and required community supports.
Many of you have asked for more details on the transition planning and we have now posted the transition plan at http://humanservices.alberta.ca/Michener-Transition.
We want to assure Albertans that the individuals who live at Michener will continue to get excellent support and services both during and after their moves. We have service providers throughout Alberta who are experts at providing the kinds of supports individuals living at Michener will need. In fact, most of the individuals living at Michener are no different in their level of needs from the people whom these service providers already support. That is why we will be working closely with families, guardians, community service providers, and Alberta Health Services throughout the transition. PDD will be creating individual transition plans for every person who is moving, and we will be working very closely with them and their families to choose their new homes. People will not move until there is a good home ready for them with the services they need.
We are also very aware of the need to build capacity in the community to support the move. Service providers have already been contacted to identify areas of need, provide training for staff, and to develop or renovate housing where it is needed.
Let us be very clear — no resident of Michener will leave until the proper accommodation and supporting services are available to him or her.
We also need to make sure our community agencies are in a position to offer a fair and competitive wage to their staff. We know this is a challenge for them, and we are working to resolve that.
This year’s budget provides for the equivalent of a 10 per cent increase for the PDD service sector. This builds on last year’s increase of five per cent for contracted agency wage funding, with additional commitments planned for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 fiscal years. The work that our community service provider staff does every day is incredibly valuable, and we are committed to working with them to ensure a robust service sector well into the future.
The staff of Michener have contributed immeasurably to the comfort and well-being of people with disabilities, and we cannot thank them enough for their service. The Department of Human Services is committed to supporting our staff through this time of change, and we will be working with them over the next year on an individual basis to determine what is right for each of them.
Our natural reaction to change is worry and apprehension. We understand that the closing of the North and South sites at Michener is a significant change for families and the Red Deer community. The Alberta government, PDD, and ourselves will be meeting regularly with families, staff, and other stakeholders to ensure we keep the lines of communication open. We will also be posting regular updates at http://humanservices.alberta.ca/Michener-Transition.