By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
The pending closings of two state-run facilities for the developmentally disabled places in question the future care for residents, especially those who are severely disabled.
John Barton, former therapist and director of Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid, said during the time he was at NORCE, both as a therapist and as administrator, two large care facilities were closed by the Oklahoma Health Department. The first to close was in Choctaw, and the second was Sunnyside Center in Enid. Department of Human Services was left with responsibility for the clients’ care after those facilities closed, he said.
“Choctaw had a lot of deficiencies, and one person died in her bedroom of natural causes, and it took three days to find her,” Barton said.
Sunnyside did not have any deaths, but the Health Department found so many deficiencies it presented a danger to the health and safety of the residents, he said. DHS contacted private providers, who he said “cherry-picked” the clients who were most able and had the fewest disabilities.
“They took them because they were less costly. In both cases, there were about 100 clients, and they took about 80 of them,” Barton said. “That left about 20 from each facility, the people who were the most disabled.”
Those clients were taken to NORCE and Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley, which served as a safety net. DHS plans to close NORCE and SORC in the next two years. SORC is scheduled to close in April 2014, with NORCE set for closure in August 2015. The DHS plan calls for transitioning clients to community-based group homes.
Barton said he has consulted with the SORC Parent Guardian Association. Barton said he received no pay, except per diem, for consulting.
“That is the history of those things. NORCE and SORC were the safety net to take those people when nobody else would take them,” Barton said.
Barton said officials worked to keep Sunnyside open and get the deficiencies in order, but there were too many, and it would have been too costly to repair them.
“There is going to be a need. I don’t know what they will do if they get in that situation,” Barton said of clients moved from NORCE and SORC. “I always thought that was really, really important for the state.”
Ken Talley, president of the SORC Parent Guardian Association, said most of the people who are in NORCE and SORC are there because they have no other place to go.
“It didn’t work out in private group homes, and they had to come to NORCE and SORC. Some are not candidates and haven’t been able to transfer out,” Talley said.
He said the safety net works in many ways, and closing NORCE and SORC will put the system in jeopardy. He said clients at NORCE and SORC are at the end of the line for housing.
“There is all kinds of medical information stating they need to have stability and continuity; they shouldn’t have change. That’s what they had at those centers,” Talley said.
“One of the biggest changes in life is changing living quarters, and they are going into a system where that is multiplied. We have, with PGA, members who were in the community care, and their family received calls from the private facility saying they could not accommodate their loved one and they would have to move.”
There are others with medical conditions that private homes will not be able to accommodate, he said. He said the state is entering a dangerous situation. Talley and other PGA members have asked the state to tell them the status of those who have gone from state facilities to private facilities before.
“We want to know how their health is today. Let us know what happened to them. Some are over-medicated,” Talley said.
He recounted the story of a woman who placed her son in private care, and when visiting him, discovered he was on multiple medications, where at SORC, he was only taking one.
Talley also wants to see figures that will show the state will save money by closing the two facilities. He doesn’t believe the savings are there.
Richard DeVaughn, former chairman of Commission for Human Services, said national statistics bear out that residents moved to other facilities suddenly do not fare well.
“The attrition rate is high when you’re moving them around, especially those with severe disabilities,” DeVaughn said. “If they have been stable for a number of years, and you move them somewhere different, they historically do not fare well.”
DeVaughn said when he was a member of OCHS, it received an average of 10-11 abuse reports per month, and 99 percent were from group homes with financial abuse encompassing about 40 percent of the reports. The rest were divided into physical and verbal abuse and inattention.
“A typical case involves the worker taking the resident to the store and buying personal items with the client’s money,” DeVaughn said.
Theft of medication also is a problem, he said, especially those taking tranquilizers and pain medication. Other forms of abuse involve putting the client in the car, locking the doors and leaving them for up to two hours, he said.
“Most of those clients are under direct-line supervision, which means they should never be out of eyesight,” DeVaughn said. “The residents can hurt themselves. Ninety-nine percent is in a group home situation.”
NORCE and SORC employees, while not having high salaries, are state employees. They have insurance, retirement and are supervised. In a group home setting, DeVaughn said, a supervisor may have five or six homes to supervise and can’t supervise them as closely.
A report from the U.S. Health and Human Services stated nationally 206 community health centers received $219 million in 2010 to provide about 25,000 Medicare patients with intense outpatient health services designed to help beneficiaries avoid psychiatric institutionalization, according to information submitted by Talley. The inspector general found about half submitted questionable bills in 2010, with two-thirds of those in Florida, Louisiana and Texas.
In Connecticut, an agency that receives $2 million in state funds to care for developmentally disabled people in several group homes in Hartford and Glastonbury again is under investigation for allegations of poor care.
There are other stories of abuse and abuse allegations across the country, Talley said.