OKLAHOMA CITY —
The Oklahoma Commission for Human Services voted Thursday to close two facilities caring for mentally challenged individuals in Oklahoma, with the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid shuttering in 2015 and the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center at Pauls Valley in 2014.
After postponing the issue for more than a year, the nine-member commission voted 6-3 Thursday to shut down SORC by April 2014 and NORCE by August 2015.
Closing the facilities came as a surprise to local legislators who thought the board would favor a plan by Dr. Mike Peck of Enid, chairman of the property committee. Peck brought forward a plan to close SORC and move all of those residents to NORCE, which has more updated facilities.
The decision drew a bitter reaction from parents and guardians of the more than 200 residents who live at the two centers.
The two facilities have a total of 231 residents who are to be moved into community-based settings during the next two years.
Commission Chairman Wes Lane proposed the change and says parents and guardians will be able to participate in the transition.
Gov. Mary Fallin had requested the vote be delayed. After two more months without a decision, Fallin toured both NORCE and SORC in late September and met with legislators from Enid and Pauls Valley.
At that time, state Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, said the September meeting was “very positive” and the governor was “very supportive of the future of the NORCE facility.”
Both Anderson, R-Enid, and state Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, expressed anger over Fallin’s actions before the vote.
Jackson said he called the governor’s office Wednesday after receiving the OCHS agenda. He said he had heard nothing about the closing and was angered about the way it is being handled.
Several parents of residents criticized commissioners for not allowing more input on the proposal.
The commission’s vote seemed to be a foregone conclusion, said Marcellius Bell, whose brother lives at NORCE.
FALLIN DEFENDS DECISION
In a press release statement, Fallin praised the vote.
“The vast majority of Oklahomans currently receiving assistance through (the Developmental Disabilities Services Division) are doing so in communities,” Fallin said in the release. “Community care offers more personalized planning and service delivery than institutional care. Additionally, outcomes for individuals in community settings have proven to be better than outcomes produced by institutional care. Completing the transition to community based services allows the state to focus its resources on the highest quality service options available.”
Fallin’s press release characterized the transition to community living arrangements as “an option that provides greater flexibility for people with disabilities” and is already being used by more than 5,000 Oklahomans.
“We want to make sure that state tax dollars are used to actually help people with developmental disabilities, whether it’s through vocational training and placement, medical services or high quality staff support,” Fallin said in a statement. “Shifting our resources to community-based services will ensure that the greatest number of Oklahomans can get the highest quality of direct support, rather than spending tax dollars on the upkeep of large vacant buildings at the state’s two aging institutions.”
Fallin said the staff at NORCE and SORC have done a great service for the state, and they should be commended for their hard work and dedication.
“As the state shifts towards community based services, it’s our hope that many of these men and women continue their work in community settings,” Fallin said in a statement.
In the resolution passed earlier today, the Human Services Commission pledged to provide assistance and support to families of NORCE and SORC throughout the transition to community homes. It also directs that no additional expenses are required to be incurred by families or residents. Finally, the commission asks Fallin to convene a panel of parents, professionals and state agency representatives to develop a comprehensive plan to support individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, as well as to address the state’s growing waiting list.
“We understand that for the men and women currently residing in NORCE and SORC, as well as their families, any transition or change in service can be difficult,” Fallin said in a statement. “It’s important for those individuals to realize, however, that we are transitioning them to community services that are more versatile and can offer them more personalized and flexible options as well as a higher quality of life. The state is absolutely committed to helping them make this transition go as smoothly as possible. It should also be clear to everyone that no one will transition out of institutional care until they locate, with the help of DDSD, a high quality community services option to address their individual needs and preferences. No one’s services will be cut off.”
LAWMAKERS CRITICIZE VOTE
Lawmakers were surprised and dismayed by the decision, which ignored Peck’s proposal.
“It is very clear from the stories we have heard from parents and other people who serve as guardians for developmentally disabled individuals, that many residents will be traumatized and negatively impacted in other ways by the closure of these two centers,” said state Rep. John Enns, R-Enid. “Ideally, we would have liked to see both stay open. At the very least though, we thought the DHS commission would keep the Enid center. They took the time to seek input and yet they ignored that input completely.”
Anderson attended the hearing, but he was denied the opportunity to address the commission members regarding the plan.
“The commission voted on a plan which had never been disclosed to the public, nor was ever provided to legislators,” Anderson said. “On top of that, the commission chairman refused to allow any public comments to be made about the plan at the hearing.”
State Rep. Lisa Billy said the commissioners erred.
“How could they vote to take these vulnerable individuals out of a care setting that has served them well?” said Billy, R-Pauls Valley. “I am shocked and angered, but now my primary concern is for the clients and their families.”
“I don’t support the closure of either center. I think the overall process was flawed and I was surprised by the decision,” said Jackson, R-Enid.
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