Saskatchewan to Close One of Last Remaining Institutions for Mentally Disabled

Saturday, February 25, 2012 7:23 PM

MOOSE JAW, Sask. – The Saskatchewan government has announced it will close one of the few remaining large facilities in Canada for housing the mentally disabled.

The Valley View Centre in Moose Jaw is a sprawling complex of buildings built in 1955 for a population of 1,500 people.

There are just over 200 living there now.

Social Services Minister June Draude says the facility will be replaced with new services over the next four years, including community-based group homes and expanded day programs.

The centre stopped admitting new residents in 2002.

The Saskatchewan government says only four other provinces provide such care in institutions for 50 or more people.

“Over the next four years, we will develop services that better support the inclusion of people with disabilities in our communities and enhance the array of services available to Saskatchewan people,” Draude said in a news release after making the announcement Friday about the facility’s future.

Ontario closed down its last such facility in 2009.

June Avivi, who is with group that represents families with relatives who live at Valley View, said her group is pleased that there will be time to plan for the closure.

Avivi, whose son lives at Valley View, said families have known for some time that the aging facility’s days were numbered. She said the average age of residents there is 57 and that the buildings need renovations.

She said people shouldn’t be living in a facility that was designed in the 1950s, but she acknowledged it will be challenging to design appropriate programs to care for the residents, as most consider Valley View their home.

“My son has lived there 40 years. The people there have been his family. In many ways, they read his body language better than I do,” said Avivi, noting that each resident will need a specifically-designed program.

“This won’t be a one-size fits all,” she said.

Gloria Mahussier, president of the Saskatchewan Association for Community Living, said the announcement was a “milestone” on the way toward allowing Valley View residents to choose where they live.

About 500 people work at the facility.

Jacalyn Luterbach with the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 603, which represents staff at Valley View, said employees have concerns with the announcement that stretch beyond just the ordinary worry over losing their jobs.

Luterbach said many of the residents who could be placed in community-based homes already have been over the past decade, and the ones that remain need significant care. She said she worries some of the remaining residents might end up in long-term care facilities after Valley View is gone.

“They have a lot of complex needs that will be difficult to care for in small environments,” Luterbach said.

Draude pledged the province will work closely with each Valley View resident, as well as his or her family, to develop a transition plan. Detailed plans for developing new services and expanding existing services will be created over the coming months, Draude said.

“Valley View employees have provided excellent care to residents over many years, and they will also play a very important role in this planning,” Draude said in the news release.

Luterbach said that involvement is important, because she said the staff consider the residents as part of their extended family.

Luterbach, herself, has worked at Valley View for 26 years. When she started, she was only planning to stay over the winter. Many other staff have similar stories, she said.

“Our members have devoted their entire careers to providing direct care for these individuals,” Luterbach said.

“We have a very low staff turnover.”

In November, the Manitoba government agreed to move dozens of people with intellectual disabilities out of the Manitoba Developmental Centre in Portage La Prairie as part of a human rights settlement.

Community Living Manitoba had fought to have the institution closed and filed a complaint with the province’s human rights commission in 2006, arguing that institutionalizing people with mental disabilities was “an affront to human dignity” and discriminatory.

Under the agreement, 29 of the centre’s 250 residents will be moved over the next three years into group homes and other facilities. The Manitoba government said at the time that there is still a need for round-the-clock residential care for some people.

© The Canadian Press, 2012

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