Michener Centre closure sparks provincewide fight

Michener Centre in Red Deer is closing and municipalities have been asked to speak against the decision.

Michener Centre in Red Deer is closing and municipalities have been asked to speak against the decision.

Since the Alberta government made the decision to close the building there has been a backlash of opposition. Workers and family members have taken to the Alberta Legislature to protest, and towns and cities have fought against losing the care centre.

Innisfail Coun. Jason Heistad was allowed 10 minutes to speak with Ponoka council during a meeting May 28. Heidstad is also one of six vice-presidents of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE). “I’m not here on a labour relations side…My intent is to express with you some of the things that we’re doing as a union.”

After 11 weeks of campaigning, petitions have sought to convince Premier Alison Redford to repeal the closure. There 200 adults with specific mental disabilities and 50 residents will be placed in long-term care; 125 will be released into the community.

“Which we all know in central Alberta, beds are tight right now in long-term care,” said Heidstad.

Innisfail, Red Deer, Penhold, Bowden and the Hamlet of Springbrook have all opposed the closure. Heistad was seeking support from the Town of Ponoka. He suggests if the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury were closed then Ponoka would suffer. “It would be a catastrophe for this community and for jobs.”

He believes closure is slated for April or May 2014 and there is time to get more petitions sent to the premier. Centres such as the Michener Centre provide valuable services to individuals who need help.

Mayor Larry Henkelman wondered if Michener Centre residents would be able to move to the Centennial Centre.

Laura Moench was with Heistad and replied she is an AUPE member and works at the Centennial Centre, she and spoke about the challenges of moving residents. “They tried to move into group homes and have not done well at all.”

More than half of the staff members will lose their jobs from this closure. There are 600 staff and 400 will lose their jobs and 200 are going to different areas. Residents of Michener Centre are more mentally handicapped and would not have a place in the Centennial Centre as the latter deals mainly with psychological issues. Heistad worries about the future of residents. “To date, there is no plan for those employees or residents.”

Some have lived in Michener for the past 30 to 40 years and do not know anything else. The intent was to close the building after residents lived out there lives.

Clients are older and Heistad believes they range from 60 to 80 years old. “This isn’t just an AUPE campaign, it’s real…This is about people and people have minimal voice in our communities.”

Coun. John Jacobs wondered if there was any other reason to close the centre besides cost-cutting.

Heistad believes the main reason for closing the centre is that it sits on prime real estate, there are 300 acres that have potential for future development. “You can plunk some pretty nice homes in there.”

Jacobs did not agree, he feels if land was the only issue the government could sell the land and build a new centre somewhere else.

Heistad suggests a better solution is to keep the building but sell the land around it.

No decision was made to support Michener Centre’s campaign.