Province balks at reinstating discontinued programs at Michener Centre

Michener Centre residents are still waiting for the government to restore recreational programming they lost when the province was set on closing the residential care centre for developmentally disabled adults.

Michener Centre residents are still waiting for the government to restore recreational programming they lost when the province was set on closing the residential care centre for developmentally disabled adults.

In mid-September, Premier Jim Prentice put a stop to the province’s 2013 plan to shutter the older Michener buildings on the north and south sides that about 120 out of 225 Michener residents called home.

Lee Kvern, vice-president of the Society of Parents and Friends of Michener Centre, said residents really miss their social club Cheers, which is no longer open on the weekends in the Michener Rec Centre.

“Cheers is where everyone goes to hang out. It’s hugely popular. Every time I was over at Michener, Cheers had anywhere from a dozen to 20 people hanging out. It’s fun. It’s a hub for people. They do crafts. They can do puzzles. They can watch movies. Computer connections are there. I used to Skype with my sister all the time,” said Kvern, of Okotoks, whose sister Jody lives at Michener.

She said residents can often be found hanging around outside the rec centre on the weekends because they don’t understand why it’s closed.

“It’s kind of sad. They have no place to go,” Kvern said on Monday.

She said developmentally disabled who live in the community also rely on Michener programs.

Hours of operation at Cheers were cut in the spring, at about the same time that nursing support to 89 residents was reduced. Nursing care was quickly reinstated after the society went public about cuts to service.

Prior to the decision to keep Michener open, 46 residents were moved out.

Mike Berezowsky, spokesperson for Alberta Human Services, said as of Dec. 9, there were 167 residents at Michener, including two who returned since the government reversed its decision.

He said his department will continue working with the individuals at Michener and their families and guardians to make sure they receive the same standard of care they’ve come to expect.

“What this means, though, is that recreational and leisure activities previously delivered onsite will be accessed through organizations and facilities in the community, with an eye on those that demonstrate the best outcomes. There is no plan to reinstate discontinued programs,” Berezowsky said in an email.

Diane Esslinger, society president, said Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski arranged for Naresh Bhardwaj, associate minister for persons with disabilities, to meet with the society before Christmas but there was not enough notice to gather members to make it happen.

Esslinger, whose brother Larry has lived at Michener for most of his life, said she hoped another meeting will be arranged early in the New Year to discuss reinstating recreational programming and to find out the government’s future plans for Michener.

Berezowsky said Bhardwaj’s office is looking at rescheduling the meeting.

Esslinger said everyone was very happy and very relieved when Prentice decided to keep Michener open.

“It does mean the difference, for Larry, between life and death,” said Esslinger, of Edmonton.

Larry was born with cerebral palsy and micro-cephalis, and has a lot of medical problems.

He doesn’t talk, has profound cognitive impairment, is severely spastic in all four limbs, and has a seizure disorder that requires him to be fed by a tube.

She said things are pretty stable for Larry now, but staff turnover has been high this year since many workers at Michener also faced an unknown future.

“I certainly hope someone who has longtime familiarity with him will be staying in his home because he can’t speak for himself.”

Esslinger said while it’s been a joyful Christmas for families and residents, their hearts go out to families whose loved ones didn’t survive to see the closure reversed.

Five residents died within two to four months of leaving Michener this year.

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