Oklahoma Department of Human Services has released the full text of the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services resolution calling for the closing of two state-run facilities for the developmentally disabled, a-proved Thursday in Oklahoma City.
According to the resolution, Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid would be closed by Aug. 31, 2015, and Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley would be closed by April 30, 2014. The proposal passed by a 6-3 vote.
State Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, was upset the resolution was not made public before the vote.
Sheree Powell, DHS spokeswoman, said Anderson did not get to preview the language before the vote because it was a “resolution” and “not a plan.” She said resolutions aren’t put out for public view or comment.
The commission refused to hear public comments from the standing-room-only crowd Thursday, and Chairman Wes Lane shut down Anderson as he attempted to address the panel, according to The Associated Press. Anderson accused Lane of making “a mockery” of the process.
The resolution includes the following language:
“Now therefore it is resolved by the Commission to direct the Developmental Disabilities Services Division (DDSD) to develop and implement plans to transition all residents at the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center (SORC) and the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center at Enid (NORCE) into community-based homes and to close the SORC facility no later than April 30, 2014; and to close the NORCE facility no later than August 31, 2015.”
The agenda released for the meeting included the following action item: “Discussion and possible vote on a plan to close the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center at Enid and the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center at Pauls Valley and transition all residents into community-based homes.”
In June, Michael Peck, an Enid optometrist and chairman of the OCHS property committee, proposed closing SORC and transferring many of the residents there to NORCE. Under Peck’s proposal, other SORC clients would have been placed in community-based group homes.
When that proposal came up for a vote in July, Gov. Mary Fallin 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, Anderson said the September meeting was “very positive” and the governor was “very supportive of the future of the NORCE facility.” He was shocked by the proposal this week to close both facilities.
Powell said the commission considered the Peck plan during a subcommittee report at the June meeting, although all the current members were not on the board at that time. At the time he made the report, Peck said it was his personal opinion on what should be done.
Anderson said Peck’s plan was not allowed on the OCHS agenda three other times at the request of Fallin. The six commissioners voting to close NORCE and SORC were appointed by the governor.
Peck said Friday he knew three of his fellow commissioners were going to vote to close both facilities, and three — including himself — thought the best solution was to keep NORCE open. The other three, he did not know for sure where they stood. He said he talked with them before Thursday’s meeting and asked them to listen to what he had to say and keep an open mind.
He said the six members who voted for the resolution studied the issue intently and “are good people.”
“I don’t think the governor directly told them what to do,” he said, “but they were heavily influenced by the governor’s office.”
Peck was not happy the resolution was written without OCHS input. He said it was done by DDSD staff members and the governor’s office. His plan, he said, has been out in the public “for everyone to see,” to discuss and to criticize, while the resolution ultimately approved was done behind closed doors away from public scrutiny.
He did, though, say the plan that was approved was not a bad idea; it just could have been better.
“I don’t think it’s the best plan,” Peck said.
Anderson said the fact OCHS could be dissolved after Tuesday’s election should not be overlooked. Voters will consider State Question 765 to dissolve OCHS and Department of Human Services, and give the governor the power to appoint the DHS director and members of four advisory committees. DHS functions would continue under the new management structure.
“Clearly, the governor wants the commission to take the blame for the vote, so she can avoid taking responsibility for this decision,” Anderson said before the vote.
Peck, who is opposed to SQ 765, said what happened at the OCHS meeting is a perfect example of what will happen if the state question is approved.
While Anderson wasn’t allowed to address the commission Thursday, Lane commented as a prologue to the resolution moving toward the closure of NORCE and SORC.
Lane, a Fallin appointee, said DHS is at a “crossroads” when it comes to caring for residents
“Commissioner Peck, I particularly thank you,” Lane said. “You, more than any of us, have poured yourself into this process. Gov. Fallin has also invested a tremendous amount of time and energy in forming her opinion. I strongly suspect that not many governors would have done this, and I would like to thank and commend her for the compassion and leadership she has shown for the people we serve. She didn’t have to do that.”
Anderson called the experience frustrating.
“They made a big effort to state the governor is not involved in this matter, when clearly we know she was,” Anderson said. “Wes Lane has been meeting with the governor about the plan as late as Monday of this week. I feel like I’ve been lied to, and the public not well served by the way this was done by the governor’s office.”