Why The Michener Centre Must Close

Recently, the Alberta government announced the future closure of the Michener Centre, an institution that houses people with developmental disabilities in Red Deer, Alberta. The centre is home to some 125 Albertans with developmental disabilities and has been in operation since the 1950′s.

The closure of this institution has been in the works for quite some time and the decision is in line with Alberta’s shift to becoming an inclusive province that values community living for all.  Alberta agencies are continuously working hard to provide supports necessary for people with developmental disabilities to live full, meaningful lives in their homes with access to all of the benefits of community living the we all possess.  However, immediately following the announcement of the closure, there was an uproar from the families of the residents and the government opposition who claim the government is forcing the 125 residents out of the only home they know and proper supports will not be provided for them.  Families fear how the transition will affect their loved ones and the government opposition claims the closure will “negatively impact families and vulnerable patients”.

The first issue I would like to address, is our government opposition’s consistent use of the term “patient” when referring to the people residing at the Michener Centre.  People with developmental disabilities are not patients unless they are in a hospital receiving medical care for an illness or injury.  A developmental disability is not an illness.  To continue referring to these Albertans as patients is demeaning and undignified.

Secondly is the move from institutional living to community living.  What we must realize is that there is a long history behind this movement.  Closing the Michener institution is not, as the opposition put it, “…just another example of a government that is out-of-touch by targeting front-line care to our most vulnerable for savings…”.  Institutions like this one have been closing all over our country in recent years as we have finally come to realize supported community living improves a person’s quality of life and wellbeing.  People with developmental disabilities who live in their communities have opportunities to contribute and participate in ways that are not available to them in a closed, monitored environment.

I believe we are currently in the crux of the global inclusive shift.  We have decided inclusion is what we want and we have a vision for what it should look like.  This implementation period is the critical point where we must get it right.  Of course we are going to hit bumps and make mistakes, take steps backwards and try to regain that ground, but that’s why it’s the crux.  Our current generations have been given the great task to make it happen and events like the closure of segregating institutions are part of the task at hand.  I wish I could wake up in the morning and step out into a world where everyone is valued, every building is accessible, every difference is cherished, and all people truly belong.  But that day has not yet come.  Instead, I am part of a generation that is building to that day as are the residents of Michener Centre and all of the other Canadian institutions that have outlived their purpose.

I do understand the concerns of the families. Change can be scary and any family with a member who has a developmental disability will tell you transitions are the most terrifying times.  Transitions between schools, between classrooms, from childhood to adulthood, from their parents home to their own home, from pediatrician to adult doctor, from one caregiver to another, marriage, having children, university.  All of these transitions and changes cause anxiety and worry for families and this move into community life will certainly be a stressful one.  However, with careful planning and supports the move can be made smoother and more positive.  Contrary to what the opposition says about the government “Moving vulnerable Albertans away from their homes and careworkers into the already overburdened not-for profit community…”, we the community do not feel people with developmental disabilities are a burden.  It is the “overburdened not-for-profit community” who want to see the Michener residents living outside of their institutionalized placement.  I believe Alberta is on the right track.  We have come a long way from the out of sight, out mind mentality and we need to continually kick it up a notch to ensure our communities are ready with the appropriate supports to have all Albertans living in opportunity.

So, instead of concentrating our voice only in support of closing the structure, let us also be a voice in support of community living and help the worried families see the positives, ease their fears, and help them in their time of transition by being the welcoming communities we are aiming and claiming to be.  Why not send them letters with our stories of success in the community, notes of inspiration and hope, contact info of other families they can network with for support?  Remember, back when the Michener Centre opened, institutionalization was common and families didn’t have the community supports that we have now.  They did for their loved ones what they thought was right at the time.  Let’s not condemn them for being afraid.  Let us, as a community, stand along side them through this transition.

The original article can be found here: http://www.beyondthecrayon.com/why-the-michener-centre-must-close/

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