An Edmonton woman is crediting staff at the Michener Centre for helping her connect with her severely-disabled brother who was placed there decades ago at the age of two.

But now that the Red Deer residential facility for developmentally disabled adults will close this fall, Diane Esslinger worries where her younger brother will go.

“This is Larry’s community. This is Larry’s home. This is the best home for him,” she said. “The staff here is amazing. The level of care is second to none.”

Larry Esslinger was moved to the Michener Centre from his Edmonton home 50 years ago.  

Attitudes and services for people like Larry were different in the 1960s. Back then, parents were told to move their developmentally disabled children to institutions and  “move on with their lives,” Diane Esslinger said. There were also very few services in Edmonton for people who wanted to keep their children at home.

Esslinger was four when her brother left their home. She remembers her mother weeping after handing him to a government worker.

“I think it broke her heart,” Esslinger said. “I think it has affected her and my dad for all of their lives.”

Caregivers helped 

The situation changed 15 years ago, when Larry had a health scare. Esslinger received a call from a nurse at the Michener Centre, which started her on the path to establishing a relationship with her brother.

She credits Larry’s long-term caregivers for playing a key role.

“It just opened up a new avenue in my life and healed a loss that I had, that I’d experienced as a child,” she said.

Last year, the provincial government announced it was closing the facility in April 2014 and moving residents into group homes.

The decision has been controversial, as this is the only home many residents have ever known. Families say group homes will never match the level of care their loved one receive from centre staff.

The closure was delayed until this fall but the province has resisted all attempts to reverse the decision.

Esslinger is worried Larry won't get the support he needs if he's moved to a group home.

“Because Larry is non-verbal and he's got very specific needs, the staff here have to get to really know the person,” she said.

“They have to know them in the same way that a parent would know a baby or a very young child.”

However, provincial officials say Michener residents who have moved into the community are doing well in their new placements.