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Deal with province moves mentally disabled into communities

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One of the only remaining institutions for the mentally disabled in Canada moved a little closer to being mothballed Friday thanks to a deal that will see 49 residents moved into group homes in the community.

The deal, brokered by a mediator following a long investigation by the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, will kick-start decisions about the fate of the Manitoba Developmental Centre in Portage la Prairie.

And, it will likely force the province to spend more this year on new group homes for the 49 severely intellectually disabled people who will be slowly moved into group homes in the coming months. The province also committed to adding more residents of MDC onto the "transition list."

"There is 40 years of social sciences evidence that discredit the myths that some people must be institutionalized," said Beverly Froese, a lawyer with Legal Aid Manitoba’s Public Interest Law Centre.

In 2006, spurred by a provincial pledge to spend $40 million renovating the MDC instead of mothballing it, Community Living Manitoba filed a human rights complaint alleging the province was discriminating against long-term residents by failing to move them into the community.

Following a long investigation, the commission agreed, saying residents and families don’t have enough information about community living to make fully informed decisions. As well, the commission found the province and the Public Trustee were mired in a "chicken and egg" situation. The government would not spend money on group home spaces until residents were placed on the transition list, and the Public Trustee would not place residents on the list unless a spot existed. The upshot was that disabled people languished at MDC.

Located on a treed campus on the north side of Portage la Prairie, the MDC includes 34 buildings, some more than 120 years old and some still home to disabled people who live in dormitory-style accommodations. The MDC is also a major employer in Portage.

Across Canada, most institutions have been mothballed, replaced with community-living group homes as part of a global trend toward integrating people with intellectual disabilities into the mainstream.

That process is well underway in Manitoba. But there are still roughly 250 adults living at the MDC, most of whom have severe intellectual and developmental disabilities caused by everything from a traumatic birth to profound autism. Most are wards of the public trustee and have no family.

A small committee of union leaders and provincial government officials recently came up with an initial list of options for the MDC’s redevelopment. Those options include a specialized nursing home, a job hub for people with disabilities, a staff training centre or a central location for day programs for disabled people who live in the community.


Updated on Friday, November 25, 2011 at 2:38 PM CST: recasts headline, amends lede paragraph

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