Former Valley View Centre residents talk about life beyond the institution

The final residents are expected to leave Valley View Centre in December 2019. The centre was originally slated to close in 2016.

Final residents expected to leave centre in December 2019

Mary Scott and caregiver Chantelle Gibson share a laugh. (Matt Howard/CBC)

Seventy-two-year-old Mary Scott says she was "a little bit little" when she arrived at Valley View Centre (VVC) near Moose Jaw. 

She was 10 when she was moved into the institution for people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

In September 2015, more than 55 years later, she moved back to Regina and into the most independent living situation she has ever had.

Mary Scott says her favourite activity to do at home is to paint. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Scott was one of 207 people scheduled to transition out of VVC after the government announced its closure in 2012. She was born with cerebral palsy and has limited use of speech and her limbs.

Scott said "everything" is different in her new home. She lives with three other housemates, all former VVC residents, in northwest Regina. Support staff are at the house around the clock.

"Mary transitioned very well, but she was ready to move out," said support worker Chantelle Gibson.

"The biggest thing is the choice."

Gibson said Scott is now able to decide what she wants to watch, eat, listen to and go where she wants to. She can also choose to paint — her passion — whenever she wants.  

Scott paints by moving her neck, using a paintbrush attached to a head piece.Most of the art pieces hanging in the house are hers.

Mary Scott has cerebral palsy and can't use her arms and her legs, but she's keen on painting and does so using a paint brush that is attached to a head piece. (Matt Howard/CBC)

Institution remains open

Valley View Centre was built in 1955 and had space for 1,500 residents.

In 2002, the centre stopped taking new residents. The Saskatchewan government officially announced its impending closure in 2012. 

The closure was criticized by people concerned about the longtime residents who had formed relationships with staff. It was first slated to close in 2016, but that date has been extended twice: first to 2018 and then to 2019. 

"I don't think we need to apologize for the length of time it's taken. I think we've done things right," said Bob Martinook,  executive director of Community Living Service Delivery with the Ministry of Social Services.

To date, 103 of the 207 people slated to move out have done so, while 52 residents remain in the institution and the rest have died because of old age and health complications. 

Currently, close to 300 staff still work at the centre. The average cost per resident per year at VVC 2014-15 was $143,000.

The average estimated cost for persons transitioning to community based homes and day program is $157,000 per year.

The province says the cost of the transition remains unknown as it is ongoing.

Martinook anticipates the last four or five people will leave the centre in December 2019.

Brittany Bechard and Serena Bernges have a special bond, as Bechard has worked with Bernges since her transition to Regina. (CBC)

Serena Bergnes lives with rotating support staff in a basement suite in north Regina.

"I think it's a nice home and I'm so blanking lucky to be here," she said, keeping herself from cursing.

Brittany Berchard is now the home coordinator at Creative Options Regina, but when Bergnes first moved to the city Berchard was her transition team leader.

"Her and I have a special bond," Berchard said.

Berchard said the initial transition was a bit of a shock to Bergnes, but now she enjoys "leading her own life." She said Bergnes was most excited for her own space and to choose her own meals.

"I was very picky (at VVC.) I wouldn't eat my vegetables. I would beg for two hot dogs on hot dog and tater tot night," Bergnes said.

For Bergnes, the hardest part of leaving was saying goodbye to her friends.

She said some still keep in touch. She recently took a roadtrip to Edmonton with Berchard and some former VVC staff.

She also runs her own cooking show on Youtube titled Cooking with Master Chef Serena.

Serena Bergnes said she loves to cook what she wants in her own kitchen. (CBC)

To date, everyone who has left VVC has stayed in their first home.

Nich Fraser, director of inclusion with the Saskatchewan Association for Community Living, said it's the "person-centred" process that's made the transition work, albeit slower than originally planned.

"Because we've got all of the details in place we haven't had the crisis, so I think planning and foresight that has really been the one thing we've learned," he said.

"When you take that time at the beginning of a transition it does pay off in spades."

Jack Gude remained in Moose Jaw after leaving Valley View Centre. (Submitted)

Seventy-year-old Jack Gude grew up at VVC, having moved in when he was 10.

He enjoyed the group meals, watching television and listening to CDs.

"Just like I do here — the same thing," he said of his new space in Moose Jaw. He moved in 2015. 

He said he enjoys going to church, heading out for walks and going to movies, but most of all he loves watching the Roughriders play.

He participates in Special Olympic Moose Jaw programs like bowling, floor hockey and bocce. He competed in the last provincial games in Moose Jaw for bocce.  ​

Gude said he didn't like the "cracks in the walls" at the institution and that his new walls are much better. 

He said the place is "real nice," aside from the occasional grumpiness of his two housemates.