Transferring high-needs residents calls for extra care

Government representatives say the ongoing transition planning process to move Michener Centre residents to new homes is very thorough.

Government representatives say the ongoing transition planning process to move Michener Centre residents to new homes is very thorough.

They say all bases are being covered to ensure that new caregivers are well-informed about resident needs so that they will be safe in their new homes.

After a resident is moved, the transition team checks with agencies and families at the three-, six-, and 12-month marks, said Cheryl Chichak, a spokesman for Alberta Human Services.

Some families of residents, however, disagree, saying their dealings with the transition team have been inadequate. At least one community agency set to take in Michener residents as well has said getting necessary information from the government has been challenging.

The perils of failing to adequately share information about residents during transitions was illustrated when in 2011 Valerie Wolski was found dead inside the home in which she cared for a severely handicapped young man. Terrance Saddleback (who has never lived at Michener Centre) had been flagged as being potentially violent while under the care of a Wetaskiwin community agency and a risk assessment said that he should never be left alone with one caregiver, especially a female one.

Yet when Saddleback was transferred to another agency in Camrose, the risk assessment was not passed along, and when Wolski was killed, she was on her own with Saddleback. The big young man was charged with manslaughter in the case, but was found to be unfit to stand trial because of his handicap.

And a recent fatality inquiry into the death of wheelchair-bound Richard David Jacknife, 47, who fell down a flight of stairs in a Red Deer group home and died, demonstrates the lengths to which operators may need to go to ensure safety. Among Judge Gordon Yake’s recommendations in the case were that doors to group home basements be alarmed and that they are monitored with video cameras and regularly checked by staff.

Bruce Uditsky, CEO of Alberta Association for Community Living, says cases like the Saddleback tragedy are “phenomenally isolated” and that evidence shows community living is, on the whole, safer than life in an institutional setting.

With over 10,000 adults with developmental disabilities living in Alberta communities, mistakes will be made and problems will arise, but he says people are less vulnerable to abuse in group home settings and work is always ongoing to improve people’s lives.

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