By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Oklahoma’s new Department of Human Services director came to Enid Thursday for a listening session. And, he got an earful from families of clients at Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid.
Parents and guardians of NORCE residents showed up angry and disbelieving, and Ed Lake, new DHS director, was asked a number of questions he could not answer. Lake talked to a full house at Autry Technology Center for 90 minutes.
The state has decided to close NORCE and its sister facility, Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley. Both care for the developmentally disabled. SORC is to be closed in 2014, and NORCE in 2015.
Bob Williams, of Dumas, Texas, has a daughter at NORCE. She has been a resident of the facility for eight years, and Williams said she is being well cared for. She is 57 years old and severely disabled. Williams said she has been in different places, including community treatment centers twice, and neither community facility worked out.
“It’s great for higher-level individuals, but not for everybody,” Williams said of community treatment facilities.
He said there is no way a community treatment center can be less expensive than having his daughter at NORCE. In community treatment centers, he said, there are no doctors or nurses on staff, although they are contracted to help residents.
Williams said his daughter had a seizure 18 days ago and stopped breathing. A physician and nurse were available at NORCE immediately and saved her life. She was scheduled to be released from the hospital Thursday.
“If she had been community-based, she would have died,” Williams said. “She is 57 years old, and NORCE is the best facility she has been in.”
Joe Young, of Chandler, told Lake his son is a resident of NORCE. He said he attended the November meeting of the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services, where the decision to close NORCE and SORC was made and at which officials promised transparency in the process.
“They promised transparency and within an hour they threatened to throw out a senator, even have him arrested,” Young said. “Do you approve of that?”
Lake did not respond to the question, saying he works for the government now.
Marcellus Bell, president of the NORCE parents and guardians association, spoke of some of the frustrations many parents and guardians feel about the decision to close NORCE and the way they have been treated by the state.
“People not being allowed to speak. How can you do that?” he said. He wanted to know if NORCE could be privatized.
“I can’t answer that,” Lake said. “It’s not part of the changeover, but I will take that back. Our job is to implement the decisions that have been made. The governor herself was involved in the decision-making.”
After the session, Young said he attended the OCHS meeting when the decision was made, and all of the board members stood and said they had not talked to the governor.
“And now he says the governor made the decision,” Young said.
Bell said the governor is playing politics with people’s lives, and he said the decision was based on politics and money. Bell, whose brother lives at NORCE, told Lake NORCE is “an excellent” facility and there are people who want to privatize it as opposed to closing it.
Bill Burris, whose son lived at NORCE until his death, asked Lake if he has toured NORCE. Lake said he will visit within a few days.
“You haven’t visited NORCE and you don’t know how serious those children are,” Burris said.
Gene Savage has a sister at the facility, and he is concerned about access for patients to the things they need. His sister must have assistance eating, dressing, bathing and other functions. She also has sleep apnea and must be checked every 30 minutes during the night to see if she is still breathing.
“She needs a facility somewhere that severely retarded and handicappd patients can be cared for,” Savage said.
Colleen Flikeaid, of Enid, told Lake it is morally wrong to uproot the residents of NORCE and put them somewhere else.
“The decision was made for financial reasons,” she said.
Lake disputed the contention that the decision was financially based.
A Colorado woman who did not give her name told Lake that even for those who function at a high level, moving is still traumatic. She said a woman she is guardian for lost 30 pounds when she was moved.
“You see numbers and patients, but these are unique people. It is a Hitler thing ... kids with no speech. These people are trying to tell a department of educated people. These people have a heart. If I lived in Oklahoma I would be thinking of impeachment,” Flikead said.
Williams said the kids can be protected at NORCE, but can’t be in a community setting. He told Lake to think about the kids and not the money.
State Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, told Lake the community is passionate about the issue. NORCE is at the front of everyone’s mind, he said.
“The decision was made by a committee that was abolished,” he said.
Jackson asked if going from the number of beds in the state to zero is a wise move. Going from the number of beds in Oklahoma to zero is a dramatic change.
“If we have zero we have no safety net and no bargaining power, Jackson said.
Lake told the audience he could feel their intensity.
Other discussion Thursday included problems with the aging, early education programs and other DHS programs.
After the meeting, Young called it “much ado about nothing.”