Manitoba’s last traditional long-term care institution for people with intellectual disabilities is ceasing operations.
St. Amant has confirmed its plans to transition all remaining residents of its so-called developmental centre to supported community living sites by 2026.
A formal announcement about the official designation change of the Winnipeg centre to a health-care facility — a shift the organization is touting as "a significant step forward in the human rights for people with intellectual disabilities" — is scheduled for June 1.
The facelift means the facility will no longer offer life-long institutional care, after more than 60 years of doing so. It will now only admit people for short-term stabilization, respite and end-of-life care.
The organization has already started calling the facility located at 440 River Rd. (previously known as River Road Place) St. Amant Health and Transition Services to reflect the shift.
"This is a big deal," said Christine Kelly, an associate professor in community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, who researches home care and disability movements.
"This is a new chapter in the history of Manitoba’s inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. We should be glad that we’re past the days of institutionalizing or warehousing people."
For decades, disability advocates have been sounding alarms about the harmful effects of institutionalization, ranging from isolation and over-medicalization.
The movement has gained significant traction across Canada over the last 15 years — in part, due to advocacy efforts and class-action lawsuits alleging horrific accounts about resident treatment.
In 2007, the federal government signed a United Nations convention recognizing the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and committed to ensuring these citizens’ full inclusion and participation in society.
Manitoba has lagged behind other provinces on this file. It was only last year the province announced it would be closing the Manitoba Developmental Centre in Portage la Prairie — one of the last remaining large-scale residential care facilities for adults with an intellectual disability in the country.
At the time, Families Minister Rochelle Squires said community living is both more dignified and safer for residents.
A class-action lawsuit alleging members who attended the Portage facility were physically, sexually and psychologically abused is ongoing.
As institutions shutter, disability policy researcher Megan Linton said resources will be necessary to both address former residents’ trauma and ensure people can participate in their community if they want to.
"It’s a huge, huge victory that this is happening — but I also know that it isn’t the end of institutionalization," said Linton, a Winnipegger who is currently completing her PhD at Carleton University (Ottawa) and hosts Invisible Institutions, a documentary podcast about institutions created for people with disabilities in Canada.
"St. Amant still runs a segregated school for children with disabilities and will still be running lots of different types of smaller institutions."
Both Manitoba Possible and the Independent Living Resource Centre welcome the change at St. Amant.
"A person’s life shouldn’t just be social workers, doctors and attendants — they need to have other aspects into their life," said John Young, executive director of the Winnipeg resource centre.
St. Amant started supporting people to continue living in the community in the 1970s. However, it was in 2013 leaders started actively focusing on moving long-term care residents into community settings.
Approximately 75 residents have been relocated to date, while 60 people will be moved as the long-term care facility winds down operations, according to the organization.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.