08/09/2012 10:30 EDT | Updated 10/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Alberta health minister makes unexpected visit to dementia care centre

CARMANGAY, Alta. - A dementia care centre that is scheduled to be closed in a southern Alberta community received a surprise visitor this week.

Workers at the Little Bow Continuing Care Centre in Carmangay, Alta., say provincial Health Minister Fred Horne showed up unexpectedly on Wednesday.

Joan Pedersen says she had an 18-minute conversation with Horne, who she says seemed to be concerned about the lack of consultation about the closure.

She says Horne told her that he thought staff and residents had been informed by Alberta Health Services of the decision in January, though Pedersen says they didn't find out until June.

Pedersen says AHS has already moved six patients out even though residents were told no deadline had been put in place for the centre's closure.

Alberta Health Services officials have said the closure is regrettable, but the building is simply too old and underused.

The centre is the major employer in the village, 65 kilometres north of Lethbridge.

Area residents and families of the patients have held two rallies to protest the closure and to voice concerns that they were not consulted.

Opposition politicians have suggested the closure shows the government is abandoning rural regions and closing care beds at a time of shortages.

Alberta Health Services said new care centres are going up in High River, Okotoks, Strathmore, and Nanton — all in southern Alberta.