08/21/2014 05:46 EDT | Updated 10/21/2014 05:59 EDT

Alberta opposition wants probe into reports of deaths of care-home patients

RED DEER, Alta. - The Alberta government is confirming that five people who were moved out of a Red Deer care home for the mentally and physically disabled have died.

A spokeswoman for the associate minister for persons with disabilities says the province looked at the circumstances — as it always does when a person in care dies.

Residents of the Michener Centre are being moved to community group homes as part of a government plan to close much of the facility to save money.

The three opposition parties are calling for all transfers to stop, and two of the parties — the NDP and the Liberals — are calling for an official investigation.

The associate minister for persons with disabilities says the government follows up regularly to ensure the moved residents are looked after properly.

Naresh Bhardwaj (nah-RESH' bahrd-WAZH') says anyone who has concerns about care should come forward.

"We have every confidence in the care providers and medical professionals, who ensure individuals receive equal or better care than what they had while at Michener," Bhardwaj said in a statement Thursday.

"We do regular followups and check-ins with every individual who has moved into the community to ensure their needs are being met and that any concerns are addressed immediately," he said.

"If anyone has any evidence to suggest the needs of an individual are not being met, or that a death was caused by a transition to another care setting, we ask that they speak with the appropriate authorities."

NDP critic Dave Eggen says the government is well aware of the strain that a move could put on a longtime resident.

"We need to know if the transfer, the trauma and the movement of these individuals, is somehow hastening injury or death," he said at a news conference Thursday.

Wildrose critic Kerry Towle wants the centre to remain open permanently.

"Residents and their family have literally had their lives torn up around them for over the past year and continue to live in anxiety waiting in limbo to find out if they can say in their homes or not," she said.

Swan said the reports are "deeply disturbing."

"If it is determined that the transfers are either the sole cause or a major cause of these deaths, then these transfers must be halted permanently and the Michener Centre kept open," he said.

The province announced last year that it planned to close the institutional buildings at the care home and move 120 residents into community group homes or seniors facilities.