The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 15, 2013

No House hearing: Bill to keep open NORCE, SORC gets the cold shoulder

Kevin Hassler, Associate Editor
Enid News and Eagle

OKLAHOMA CITY — State Rep. Mike Jackson’s bill to keep two state-run centers for the developmentally disabled open did not receive a hearing in the House.

But, he said, that’s not the end of the situation.

Jackson’s House Bill 2053 would have nullified the Department of Human Services plan to close Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid and Southern Resource Center in Pauls Valley. However, it was one of some 70 bills that did not receive a hearing in the House, including five of Jackson’s.

There was hesitancy in the Senate over the bill, he said, as well as opposition from Gov. Mary Fallin’s office.

The since-abolished Oklahoma Commission for Human Services voted in November to close NORCE and SORC and move their clients into community-based group homes. Fallin had appointed the majority of OCHS members.

Jackson, an Enid Republican who also is House speaker pro tempore, said his bill would have “taken a long time to debate” and “would have been very difficult to get through the Senate.”

He plans, though, to continue to work on other ways to keep at least part of NORCE and SORC open.

“This was just one idea we brought through committee,” Jackson said of HB 2053.

He plans to work with others, including Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid; Rep. John Enns, R-Enid; and Rep. Lisa Billy, R-Purcell; to come up with an alternative plan.

The goal, Jackson said, is to ensure the state has a safety net for caring for some of its most vulnerable residents. Only four states do not have any state beds for developmentally disabled people, he said.

“My job is to try to alter policy to have enough state beds,” he said. “We have to add state beds back.”

Not having any safety net would put the state in a corner, he said.

One possibility, Jackson said, is reviving a plan rejected by the Legislature a couple of years ago that would substantially pare down SORC to around 20 beds and reduce NORCE — by closing some older buildings — to 94 beds.

Another possibility, Jackson said, was mentioned by House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton. That would involve an interim study after the session looking at how DHS is handling placement of SORC clients in community group homes. SORC is scheduled to close by April 2014, while NORCE is to close by August 2015.

The study could look at if DHS is having any problems with placement of SORC residents. If DHS is having problems placing SORC clients, Jackson said, it would “have issues placing NORCE residents.”

Another bill dealing with the situation, HB 1867, authored by Billy, was approved by the House.

That bill would allow for annual evaluations of group homes by the Quality Assurance Unit of the Developmentally Disabilities Services Division of DHS. It also would require background checks of employees and incident reporting, including reports of maltreatment.

“If the facilities close, I want the clients to have the very best care possible,” Billy said. “I also want the parents to be a part of this all-volunteer group helping with assessments.”

Anderson is Senate author of HB 1867.Ԅ