Michener Centre transfer will not be halted despite deaths, says province

The Alberta government says it will continue with plans to move residents of the Michener Centre to new facilities around the province despite concerns raised after five former residents died.

Alberta government says there is no need for an investigation because former residents died of natural causes

The provincial government decided to shut down the Michener Centre in Red Deer for people with developmental disabilities in March 2013. The plan is to transfer all residents into community homes by this December. (CBC)

The Alberta government says it will continue with plans to move residents of the Michener Centre to new facilities around the province. 

Opposition MLAs had called on the province earlier in the day to halt the transfer after claims that several residents have died since they were moved. 

The Friends of the Michener Centre, a group fighting to keep the Red Deer centre for disabled adults operating, say five of the 41 people transferred out of the facility have died in the last four months. The group would like to see an investigation.

Lee Kvern, who has a sister living at the centre, says the residents who have been transferred were fragile and may still be alive today if they were still living in a familiar setting. She said not everyone that died was elderly.

But Naresh Bhardwaj, the associate minister for persons with disabilities, says the government has not heard anything from the families that would suggest an investigation is necessary.

Orville Culbert died after he was moved to a facility in Lacombe and caught a fever that he couldn't shake. His family believes he died of a broken heart after having to leave all of his friends in Red Deer. (Submitted by the Culbert family)

"The causes of death were natural causes," he said. "That's my understanding so we're not doing any further investigation on that."

Bhardwaj says it will move another 44 residents when places become available.

Cliff Culbert's brother Orville lived at the Michener Centre for decades because of brain damage caused by seizures. Orville Culbert died after he was moved to a facility in Lacombe and caught a fever that he couldn't shake.

"I think he passed away with a broken heart," said Cliff Culbert. "All of the small amount of friends that he had was back in Red Deer."

Closure spurred protests

It was announced in March 2013 that the province would be closing the centre, which sparked an outcry from friends and family members of Michener residents.

Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle said the province should stop the transfer of people out of the facility to "show a basic sense of compassion for Michener residents and their families." 

“The pain, anxiety and frustration it has caused the residents — many of whom are severely disabled — is completely unacceptable,” Towle said. “There can be no question that shuffling around highly fragile individuals has created untold horror stories and declining health outcomes for residents.”

Bhardwaj said he had "every confidence" in the care providers and medical professionals who are now caring for the former residents. 

“In every case, the families of each resident that is moved from Michener into another care setting, meets with their loved one’s care professionals to develop, and approve of, a transition plan supporting his or her unique medical and care needs," he said in the statement. 

“If anyone has any evidence to suggest the needs of an individual are not being met, or that a death was caused by a transition to another care setting, we ask that they speak with the appropriate authorities.”  

'Time is of the essence here'

NDP MLA David Eggen believes there should be an investigation.

NDP MLA David Eggen said an investigation needs to be conducted to see if transferring people out of the Michener Centre is affecting their well-being. (CBC News)

“Time is of the essence here and that’s why I put a letter to and I will contact [Service Alberta] Minister Bhullar straight away to look at this,” he said. “We are looking at a correlation of cause and effect, but in this case the result is potential mortality.”

There are still about 80 people living at the centre. The provincial government says it wants to close the facility because it no longer fits the move toward non-institutionalized care.

Calgary Liberal MLA David Swann said while he agrees with the idea of moving away from institutional care, and towards integrating people into community care, it won’t work because many of the Michener patients are elderly and have been at the centre for so long.

The province also needs to look at what happened to the residents who were moved out, Swann said.

“[The government needs to] try and establish independently with medical practitioners there, nurses perhaps, what kind of difficulties they had in this transition and what supports did they have in Michener that they no longer had in the community that might have precipitated more stress, more medical complications and ultimately death," he said. 


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