By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Parents and guardians fear closure of the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid may be inevitable, but they believe the decision is a fatal mistake.
That was the consensus expressed Sunday at a NORCE Parent Guardian Association meeting in Enid.
After delivering a report on estimated costs involved in closing the facility for physically and mentally disabled individuals, former President Marcellius Bell said he fears closure will happen despite their efforts.
Bell, the newly elected NORCE PGA representative, and former president Bill Burrus, presented a report they put together detailing the costs and reasons for closing the Enid facility, claiming they have received no answers from the Department of Human Services.
Although Bell said it was hard to get numbers from DHS while compiling the report, the data presented represented some figures obtained from the department.
When considering a budget of $17 million for repairs needed, the PGA report noted DHS furnishes all services to the Robert M. Greer Center, which is operated under a contract through Liberty Health Care, and located on the NORCE campus.
DHS estimates more than $17 million as capital budget costs for NORCE, according to the report. Those include such costs as replacing sewer lines, renovating and repairing the swimming pool, renovating Omega Halfway House, replacing windows in six buildings, replacing and repairing roofs, repairing tunnels and sidewalks, and $300,000 for a 60-by-100-foot storage building.
A $3.5 million alternate plan from NORCE PGA members showed $90,000 for sprinkling the other half of the hospital, $280,145 for window replacement, $200,000 for roof replacement, $210,000 to renovate the bathroom and upgrade the kitchen at NORCE and $1.5 million for complete replacement of sewer lines and piping. They estimated $100,000 to repair the sewer lagoon at NORCE, $20,000 to replace fixtures in the client area, $200,000 to resurface parking lots, $731,885 to replace water lines and valves and $150,000 to replace windows on Unit 1’s south side.
The $17 million figure given by DHS as the cost to keeping NORCE open came from the DDSD, the developmental disabilities services division of DHS.
“For four months, the DDSD stuck to their story, that NORCE had to be closed because of the needed repairs,” the report stated. In the report, Bell and Burrus stated news media were given that account.
A story in the Feb. 28 Journal Record quoted Ann Dee Lee, spokeswoman for the DHS Developmentally Disabled Services Department, referring to spending money repairing 100-year-old buildings and that $15 million was needed for renovation on sewer lines and other expenses to keep NORCE open.
On March 12, the report says Lee was contacted by parents and guardians.
“She became upset and wanted to know when the NORCE PGA was going to get off the money kick, and that was not the reason NORCE was closed,” according to the report. She said the facility was being closed because it is a national trend.
The report also quoted Adele Jack, division director of support services for DHS, stating the only serious item she saw was the lack of a sprinkler system that would cost about $90,000.
“That is a far cry from $17 million,” the report said.
Bell and Burrus said they could get no information about money. They had two meetings with DDSD personnel to discuss where the savings come from and how much it would cost to close NORCE. They did not receive an answer to either question, the report stated.
Bell and Burrus reached some conclusions based on the lack of response from the department, according to the report:
• No budget has been set for costs associated with the closing.
• There are numerous costs associated with closing NORCE and establishing 37 community homes to house NORCE residents. Either the DDSD does not know them or simply did not tell PGA representatives.
• They also concluded personnel were told not to worry about the cost, just to get the job done.
Shortly after the decision last fall to close NORCE and the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley, the DDSD staff released a 42-page document about how officials planned to close the two facilities and move everyone to 37 new institutions. The NORCE PGA concluded DDSD staff worked on the report long before the closure decision by Oklahoma Commission for Human Services Chairman Wes Lane, an appointee by Gov. Mary Fallin.
Some costs listed in the report related to closing NORCE. Among those costs include 18 months individual insurance benefits paid to employees, who also will receive separation payments of one weekly salary for each year worked, with a minimum of $5,000 and maximum amount of $26,000. Also, they will receive 50 percent of all accrued annual sick leave.
DHS projected separation would occur at the closure of the facility, according to the report. Based on the assumption, the estimated total state dollars are slightly more than $5 million, with $2.6 million at NORCE and $2.4 million at SORC.
The remaining value of the NORCE buildings and improvements at the end of August 2015 is an estimated $454,270, the report stated. That does not include two new cottages, Vocational and Greer. The state also will furnish costs for each resident totaling $2,400 each when they move from NORCE. That amount totals $259,200 annually.
Based on the figures obtained, the PGA concluded the closing of NORCE was political.
“The fight is over, but I’m still going to make noise and muddy the water,” Bell said.
Crescent resident Joe Young, the father of a NORCE resident, agreed with Bell that the battle is over.
“We need to get on the next step. The staff is leaving and the care is declining. That’s our position, nothing can be done,” Young said. “There’s been nothing illegal, it’s just a bad decision.
Young said he is surprised the city of Enid has not done more because of the jobs at stake.
The board of directors for DHS voted to close the facilities at NORCE in Enid and SORC in Pauls Valley during a meeting in 2012. The day the decision was made, Chairman Lane threatened to have state Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, removed and allowed no public comment at the meeting.