With every closure of a place like Michener Centre, fear is an element. Families forced by governments to consider where to relocate their loved ones speak warily of a lack of services outside the institution; unqualified, underpaid staff in group homes; and the negative health effects they believe will be caused by residential upheaval.
And even some involved in the community living sector say some of that apprehension is justifiable, and that there are some truly bad service providers out there.
But studies of closures in other jurisdictions largely show how far familial attitudes change once transitions are realized.
After all of Ontario’s institutions were closed in 2009, a study done found that families who had fought the closure order were overwhelmingly satisfied with their loved ones’ new community placements.
It also largely found that quality of life improved for developmentally disabled individuals, family contact increased, old friendships were maintained and new ones created.
Studies have also looked at mortality rates associated with moves out of institutions, with one from California suggesting that deaths were hastened by transfers into community settings.
Other studies, though, have concluded that lives have been extended thanks to deinstitutionalization.
In some spaces, former Michener residents are referred to as “survivors,” a label the centre’s former medical director Dr. Robert Lampard resents.
He says quality health care has always been readily available to Michener residents, and if those individuals are moving out to group homes in smaller communities, they will not get near the same care and attention.
“The average age of a resident at Michener exceeds that in the community . . . From a health care perspective they’re exposed to great risk,” says Lampard.
According to the province, only 10 per cent of current Michener residents have extensive medical needs, and only 15 per cent have complex behavioural needs. Resident families say community agencies are not equipped to deal with their aging and high-need loved ones, but community living advocates say people with greater needs are already served well in group homes. To go along with the transitions, community agencies are having to hire dozens of new staffers to care for new residents.
At the Central Alberta Residence Society, for one, those staff will have to complete a training session put together by a group of developmentally disabled self-advocates.
While appreciative of such a requirement, former Michener resident Harold Barnes argues that group home residents should get a say in hiring decisions of the people who will care for them.