Severely developmentally disabled Michener Centre residents lost nursing care on Sundays and statutory holidays as of June 1, requiring residents to seek medical care in the community.
According to information sent out from Alberta Human Services to families on May 26, on those days staff will have to use “HealthLink, a walk-in clinic or the nearest hospital” to assist residents.
The on-call Michener nurse, available during the day on Sunday, has also been eliminated.
But registered nurses at Michener will continue to see residents from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Lee Kvern, whose sister has lived at Michener for many years, said reducing RN care is an underhanded move by the provincial government that could put residents at risk.
“She can barely communicate on a day-to-day basis let alone in a health crisis. She’s autistic. She’s prone to behaviours. She can’t sit in emergency for hours or a walk-in clinic. She can’t physically do it,” Kvern said.
The province is in the process of closing the old institutional buildings at Michener Centre, forcing about 120 residents to move into community group homes or seniors facilities.
Transitions are expected to be completed by the end of the year.
So far 28 people have moved out.
Five of them have gone into long-term care facilities and the rest into group homes. Twenty residents on the north site must still be moved and 69 on the south site.
Some families continue to fight the closure announced without consultation with them in March 2013.
Provincial ministers and premiers previously promised Michener Centre would be there for residents as long as it was their desired option. That commitment was reinforced again in a 2008 government report.
The average age of Michener residents is 60.
“We’re fighting for the service and support that Michener has excelled at for the last 20 years. We’re not fighting for the buildings. We’re fighting for the award-winning care,” Kvern said.
“I think this is a tactical move. I think they are trying to smoke us out. I think they will cut all the services to the point that we’ll be forced to move our people out of Michener because there will be no services, which is pretty nasty in my mind.”
“We get the letter on (May 26) and these cuts are … June 1. What does that tell you? There’s again no discussion, no consultation, no nothing,” Kvern said.
Roxanne Dube Coelho, spokesperson with Alberta Human Services, said changes were made to the availability of registered nurses at Michener because their role has changed over the years to provide more consultation to frontline staff rather than hands-on nursing care.
There’s also fewer residents, she said.
“It’s not that nursing care is no longer provided because nursing direct care was not how it worked. Anyone will still be able to access HealthLink and they would get pretty much the exact same advice,” Dube Coelho said.
She said Michener nurses have not provided overnight on-call nursing service since 2010.
“Coverage has primarily been day hours, and not past 5:15 p.m., since September,” Dube Coelho said.
Jason Heistad, executive secretary-treasurer with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the union that represents Michener staff, said the changes are a concern because doctors and nurses elsewhere don’t know Michener residents like those who work at Michener.
Earlier this year Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski and the AUPE made public their idea to keep some south side buildings at the facility for developmentally disabled people open to residents, in addition to the centre’s group homes.
In April, she made a presentation to the Alberta Legislature Standing Committee on Families and Communities outlining concerns about moving people out of Michener Centre.
On Friday, Jablonski said no progress has been made on keeping south side buildings open.