Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

June 26, 2013

Jackson wants legislative inquiry on NORCE

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A legislative panel could meet before the end of the year to consider changes to a closure plan at Enid’s facility for the developmentally disabled.

State Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, said this week he asked Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon to hold a study on the future of Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid and Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley.

NORCE is scheduled for closure in 2015, and SORC will close next year.

Jackson will know in mid-July whether his request for an interim study is authorized.

“At this point, I don’t know whether it’s going to be approved as of yet, but I am very hopeful,” he said. “I think that this needs to continue in terms of conversation, and I hope the speaker and others will take a look at what’s going on at NORCE and SORC, and we can look at that in general.”

Jackson, who is the No. 2 leader in the House, said he is opposed to closing NORCE.

“I think there are a lot of questions still around with the closure of both facilities — whether there is going to be a quote-unquote safety net in place, whether or not they can actually get those individuals out into a community setting as soon as they think that they can, which I don’t believe that they can,” he said.

The interim study would investigate the need for a public safety net for those with severe developmental disabilities and medical complications. One of those nets could be keeping some beds open at NORCE.

“As well as some additional alterations to the DHS plan that was so hastily passed last October,” Jackson said.

Department of Human Services Communications Coordinator Sheree Powell disagrees with Jackson’s assessment of the closure plan.

“It was not hastily put together. It was very carefully put together and considered,” she said in response to Jackson’s comments. “We are continuing with the closure plan. We have many individuals who live at both NORCE and SORC who are already in the planning and transition process. Some have moved, but many more are in the process of planning their moves.”

Powell said there already is a safety net for those living in the community.

“That safety net is the vast network of community resources we have available. If someone doesn’t like their roommate, if someone doesn’t like their provider, we help them find another one,” she said. “We have over 100 different agencies who contract with us all around the state to provide community services. That is the safety net — a vast community services system. And that’s the way it has been for the past 20 years.”

One of the pressing issues Jackson mentioned stems from the fact employees at NORCE and SORC knew well in advance their jobs would end, which could put a strain on the facilities when those workers leave to start new jobs.

“All of those things need to be looked at because it’s our job to make sure that those that are in those facilities are being taken care of and being taken care of well,” Jackson said. “And, if we’re not, we’re failing.”

DHS, Parents and Guardians Association and Oklahoma Public Employees Association likely will be present to give testimony during an interim study. Jackson said what he learns could impact legislation he files next session.