The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

July 20, 2012

No vote: Future of SORC, NORCE has vote delayed by Fallin

By Kevin Hassler, Associate Editor
Enid News and Eagle

ENID — An anticipated vote Tuesday by members of Oklahoma Commission for Human Services on the future of two state-run centers for the developmentally disabled will not happen.

Gov. Mary Fallin requested the vote be delayed. The plan that was up for consideration would have closed Southern Okla-homa Resource Center in Pauls Valley and transfer many of the residents there to Northern Okla-homa Resource Center of Enid. Under the plan, other SORC clients would be placed in community based group homes.

State Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, praised the move by the governor.

“Prior to (Thursday), the rumor around the Capitol was that the governor was intent on closing both facilities,” he said. “However, her actions demonstrate that she has had a change of heart and recognizes the importance of these facilities in the lives of our most vulnerable citizens.”

Richard Devaughn, a retired Enid dentist and OCHS member, had a different spin on the latest development.

“I think it’s the typical political game of kicking the can down the road,” he said Friday. “The governor has her own plans. She’s going to make the decision.”

At the June OCHS meeting, Michael Peck, an Enid optometrist and chairman of the panel’s property committee, gave a report in which he proposed closing SORC and transferring clients to Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid. Both facilities care for developmentally disabled clients.

Both facilities need repairs, but NORCE is in better condition and more capable of housing SORC residents almost immediately, Peck’s report stated.

When he gave his report, Peck said it was his personal opinion and something he had been trying to get on the OCHS agenda for some time. Although it was not specifically on the agenda, he introduced his plan during the property committee report.

“I think that probably got the ball rolling,” he said, on bringing the issue to the forefront so something can be done.

Peck said he wanted to get the discussion moving for NORCE and SORC clients’ families and guardians, who have been left in limbo for months concerning the future of the two centers. He said he met with parents and guardians of clients at both facilities before coming up with his plan.

In his proposal, Peck said a lack of funding for the two facilities was a factor in his recommendation.

“... The Oklahoma State Legislature has been reluctant to finance capital improvements and maintenance on our two residential-care resource centers,” he said in the report. “This has left a heavy burden on OKDHS funds that simply are not there to maintain both campuses.

“I feel the most logical and reasonable solution is to consolidate the two residential facilities into one,” he continued. “Northern Oklahoma Resource Center (NORCE), which is located in Enid, requires much less updating and modification in order to add more residents than its counterpart, SORC, in Pauls Valley.”

Political worries

Devaughn said he was not happy with the delay in a vote. He said Peck’s plan was the result of two years of study and represented the best solution.

“We needed to come to a vote,” he said. “It was the right thing to do.”

He fears now both centers may be closed.

“They’re going to kick this can around until both facilities will be closed and they won’t have a choice,” Devaughn said, about families with loved ones at SORC.

He said politics and contributions from private care companies could be a factor in any decision made.

“That’s what it boils down to ... follow the money,” he said.

Anderson was more optimistic about the situation.

“The governor has now taken ownership of this issue, and the future of the facilities rests squarely in her hands,” he said. “I appreciate her leadership and pledge to support the governor’s commitment to keeping these facilities operating for years to come.”

Anderson also had praise for Enid residents who responded to his call for a letter-writing campaign to urge Fallin to keep NORCE open.

He said Enid residents sent or made at least 1,000 letters, emails and phone calls to the governor’s office expressing “how important NORCE is.”

Members of Parents Guardian Association (PGA) for Southern Oklahoma Resource Center had come up with their own plan, which called for improvements to be made to the Pauls Valley facility.

PGA members also wanted Department of Human Services to prepare a report checking up on former clients of SORC, NORCE and the former Hissom facility to find out how their transition into a community setting went.

Fallin last week named Wes Lane, former Oklahoma County district attorney, to be OCHS chairman. On Thursday, she also named Brandon Clabes, Midwest City police chief, and Myron Pope, vice president of enrollment at University of Central Oklahoma, to fill open OCHS seats.

That played a part in her decision to delay a vote on the facilities.

DHS had been required — under terms of legislation passed by the Legislature in 2011 — to come up with a plan for the future of NORCE and SORC. The plan that was developed — but which was rejected by lawmakers in February — called for greatly reducing SORC, closing all buildings but a 15-bed hospital, and keeping NORCE in operation. The plan called for reducing the patient census of SORC to about 15 by August 2013, and transferring the remainder of its clients to either NORCE or community housing.

According to a DHS report at the time the rejected proposal was developed, about 245 residents are housed in the two facilities. The end result of the reorganization would have reduced that number to 112 at NORCE.