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October 8, 2013

With closure looming, NORCE cuts back on staff

DHS approves buyouts for those in caregiver roles at facility

ENID, Okla. — As many as 30 caregivers at Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid will be out of work by Dec. 3, because of a voluntary buyout plan.

Human resource officers met at NORCE Tuesday with nearly 100 employees — the same employees who face a total shutdown of the facility by 2015. The meetings followed a letter sent out by Department of Human Services, offering a benefit package to those who agree to leave work this year.

The buyouts are voluntary and the remaining workers will keep their jobs, the agency said.

In a statement, DHS spokesman Mark Beutler said about 130 or 140 letters were sent out to the facility’s full-time direct care specialists and other workers. Of those, only the first 30 who notify the department through email or fax will receive the benefit package.

Beutler said the buyouts come as more NORCE clients are being moved out of the state-run facility.

“A number of clients have been moved to community placements, so these (voluntary buyouts) are an effort to align staffing requirements with the new NORCE client levels,” he said.

Benefits of a voluntary buyout are set by law and agency policy. According to the DHS, employees will receive the following:

• Payment equal to their current health insurance premium for 18 months. This applies to the employee only.

• A longevity payment that would have been paid on their next anniversary.

• One week of pay for each year employed with a minimum of $5,000 and, at most, $26,000.

• A payout of accumulated sick leave equal to one-half of the employee’s hourly wage.

As of June, NORCE employed more than 150 direct-care specialist employees, according to figures obtained by the Enid News & Eagle. In August, the agency said there were 92 residents of the facility, a number that is expected to fluctuate as more parents and guardians find homes in advance of the 2015 closure.

NORCE is a state-run facility that cares for developmentally disabled people. Another state-run center, Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley, is scheduled to close in 2014.

Enid lawmakers have tried to keep NORCE open. The next chance for the Legislature to examine the issue is planned for this month.

Although a meeting notice has not yet been posted, the interim study will be Oct. 17 at the Oklahoma State Capitol, state Rep. Mike Jackson said. He confirmed there will be speakers to talk about the DHS plan to shutter NORCE, and comparison of how similar plans were implemented in other states. There also will be testimony about safety nets and whether DHS’ plan meets that criteria, Jackson said when reached Tuesday.

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