By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
A bill to keep two state-run centers for the developmentally disabled open overwhelmingly passed the House Human Services Committee on Monday.
The bill by state Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, would prevent the closing of Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid and Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley.
The decision to close the facilities was made in November by the now-disbanded commission overseeing Department of Human Services.
The legislation, House Bill 2053, was approved 7-0 by the committee and will go to the full House. Questions asked during the committee meeting were mixed between friendly and non-friendly, Jackson said, but the closing process is a matter of concern for many legislators.
Jackson said he hopes the committee discussion will lead to a discussion with Gov. Mary Fallin’s office. He said he is willing to work with the governor on the issue, but so far, there has been no willingness from the governor’s office.
“Closing these facilities disrupts the care of Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens and has not been proven to save the state money,” Jackson said. “I am willing to work with all parties to ensure the best care is given to these Oklahomans.”
Jackson filed a shell bill during the filing period that served as a placeholder until he put together the proper wording for the bill. The legislation directs Department of Human Services to cease implementation of its plan to close NORCE and SORC. The bill also directs DHS take no further action without prior approval of the Legislature.
The bill requires DHS to develop a plan for NORCE and SORC considering the concerns of families of clients and the state’s need for safety-net beds for seriously disabled residents, said Trish Frazier, Oklahoma Public Employees Association. NORCE and SORC provide residential services for developmentally disabled adults. Under the bill’s wording, DHS must develop a plan for state-administered resource centers taking into account clients of NORCE and SORC, families and guardians who are unwilling to change placement of their loved ones and a safety mechanism for state-funded beds.
The DHS plan must be submitted to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2014. The plan would be subject to legislative approval by March 1, 2014. If the Legislature approves, the plan developed by DHS would not be implemented until after March 1, 2014.
Oklahoma Commission for Human Services voted in November to close NORCE and SORC, just days before the commission itself was disbanded by a statewide vote. The commission was filled with a majority of Fallin appointees, and families of clients have expressed concern about the lack of attention to their concerns and at the manner in which the decision was made. OCHS Chairman Wes Lane threatened to “throw out” state Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, before the vote to close the facilities and denied him a chance to speak.
Frazier said NORCE and SORC residents are seriously developmentally challenged adults, most of whom also suffer from serious chronic medical conditions, such as epilepsy, have tracheotomies, and use gastrostomy tubes for feedings.
“Many have lived most of their lives at the facilities,” Frazier said. “Because of their serious medical challenges and disabilities these clients face and the grave concerns of their families, the Legislature should also take responsibility and be accountable for this critical decision regarding the future of these facilities.”
Ninety-nine percent of the residents at NORCE and SORC are considered profoundly disabled, compared to 19 percent in community settings, she said.
Former OCHS member Richard Devaughn, of Enid, said Jackson’s legislation is the right thing.
“It will be interesting to see how the governor reacts, because this was her deal from the get-go. It will be interesting to see her take on it,” Devaughn said.
“The closure plan was voted in by a board that has been abolished by a vote of the people,” Jackson said. “The costs of these facilities are paid through Medicaid, and the funds are minimal when looking at the overall budget, yet they are critical to the residents and their families.”