Michener saga far from over: inquiry into death’s of former residents needed

Putting the brakes on Michener Centre’s closure has not quieted calls for an inquiry into the deaths of five residents who died after moving out of the facility.

Putting the brakes on Michener Centre’s closure has not quieted calls for an inquiry into the deaths of five residents who died after moving out of the facility.

All five died this spring and summer within two to four months of leaving Michener following the province’s decision to close the facility by the end of the year. In March 2013, the government headed by former premier Alison Redford announced the closure. A week ago, Premier Jim Prentice reversed that decision, and 46 residents who have already moved out, and those who were waiting for new homes, can also return or stay.

Cliff Culbert, whose brother Orville was one of the five who died, said he is glad the closure was stopped. The residents who are still alive, and their families, are winners.

“Those five people can’t come back,” said Culbert, of Hodgeville, Sask.

Orville lived at Michener for about 37 years and was moved to Lacombe Hospital and Care Centre.

Culbert said he didn’t want his brother moved, but felt pressured by Alberta Human Services.

“It’s all well and good that the government changed their mind (but) why did they change it? Is that like admitting it was wrong the way they did it, in such a bullying manner? I believe so.”

He said Michener was his brother’s home, and the people there were like family.

“He would consider those people more his family almost than his brothers and sisters because we got to see him on weekends every once and awhile. Those people, he lived with day in and day out.”

Lee Kvern, who refused to move her sister out of Michener where she has lived for 42 years, said it was so important that the public found out about the deaths. The government sure wasn’t talking about them.

“Where’s the accountability, and where’s your responsibility to at least stop what you’re doing and investigate and see what’s going on,” Kvern said.

Bruce Uditsky, Alberta Association for Community Living CEO, who is a staunch critic of institutionalization and has argued in favour of the closure of Michener, even agreed there should be some sort of investigation into the deaths.

“I think there should at least be a review and a transparent explanation to reassure people. If something wasn’t done correctly, we need to be assured it is done correctly in the future and that one’s life shouldn’t be at stake because an institution is being closed,” Uditsky said.

As for Prentice’s decision to keep Michener open, Uditsky said it failed to address all the other Albertans living with disabilities.

“He made a decision relative to a few, and I would want assurances now that every family in this province actually is going to have whatever choice they make respected and adequately funded.”

He said the AACL will be requesting a meeting with the premier. More funding is needed for support workers in the community as they are paid less than government staff. Income supports to the disabled are not enough and forces them to live in group homes rather than living more independently.

“The AACL thinks we should be moving away from group homes and moving towards people living together in smaller numbers and in places that are much more like where the rest of us choose to live. There’s nothing about a disability that says you can’t live in a condo or townhouse or apartment or bungalow or duplex.”

Uditsky said group living arrangements are becoming outdated and the group homes being built for people who were moving out of Michener were more appropriate for the deinstitutionalization process.

Ten agencies in Central Alberta received funding to create 51 new spaces for the Michener transition, at a budgeted cost of about $10 million.

Parkland Community Living and Support Services was one of those agencies and CEO Phil Stephan said nine Michener residents moved into three of the group homes Parkland built. He was not aware of any who were returning to Michener.

Another three wheelchair accessible group homes are to be finished this month or next month.

“Whether it’s going to be used for folks who are leaving Michener Centre, or whether it’s used by folks who exist in the community and are moving into service, the investment on the part of the provincial government was very wise and prudent. There’s clearly no downside,” Stephan said.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

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