Supporters of the Michener Centre in Red Deer rallied Wednesday, urging the province to reconsider plans to close down residential programs for Albertans with severe disabilities.

About 250 people showed up outside Red Deer city hall to protest the closure, including employees, residents and their families.

Lee Kvern’s sister Jody is one of 125 disabled residents slated to move out of the Michener Centre and into group homes and other living arrangements.

"I don't understand why we would close down our top care facility," she said.

"The people here are here because they need to be here, because they need that expert care of Michener staff. They're not going to get it out in the community."

Protestors said the provincial government is breaking a promise to keep the Michener open.

Joyce Tona has had a daughter living in the centre for 40 years.

"It means an absolute home [to her]," said Tona. "She will be angry because she won’t understand why she has been moved."

Support for closure

But not everyone is arguing to keep Michener Centre open.

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The rally included Carol Gillette, right, who has lived at Michener Centre for more than 50 years. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Bruce Uditsky, with the Alberta Association for Community Living, says people with developmental disabilites can successfully adjust to community living.

"There is a universal movement, and there has been for decades, to end institutionalization, which we began to do in Alberta some time ago," he said.

"And to support people well in the community where they have access to more meaningful and better lifes."

Uditsky says he doesn't believe the claim that the centre is a home, not an institution.

"It's a bit of a sad commentary if that's people's imagination as to what a home and community is," he told CBC News. "It's not for any of the rest of us."

Uditsky says, if the transition is done correctly, Michener residents will get a chance to build more independence and relationships.

Province to find community care

The province says it will find appropriate care in the community for all the residents. The move will save the province $100,000 per resident per year.

"Our budget plan is to provide services in an effective and efficient manner," said Frank Oberle, associate minister for people with disabilities.

"I don’t think anybody would argue with that. But if that allows me, by having more efficient care, to care for a lot more people in need — people with unmet needs — than your darn rights, I’m going to seize that opportunity."

Kvern says her sister tried group home living years ago, but that led to serious behavioural and safety problems and so she returned to the Michener Centre.

Michener has moved away from its institutional past and now helps many with severe disabilities, while still supporting group homes and community integration, she said.

Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said the closure will affect 400 workers at the centre.

The board of trustees for the Red Deer Public Schools and Red Deer city council recently waded into the debate, urging the province to reverse the decision.