Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

January 21, 2014

Some SORC employees say ‘YES’ to buyout

Ezra Mann
Pauls Valley Democrat

emann@pvdemocrat.com — The period of transition before closure still has a ways to go for the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley.

However, the client population at the former state school recently reached the first plateau where employee numbers will soon be reduced, according to Sheree Powell, director Communications and Community Relations for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

This resulted in a chance for as many as 30 of the current employees to terminate their jobs early through a voluntary buyout offer, something which did not take long to fulfill after it was introduced only a couple of weeks ago.

“The VOBO’s are done as the client numbers decline and that’s why we offer packages at different times… It’s first come, first serve, from what I understand,” said Powell, noting how the last census she saw put the client population at 62 for SORC and 42 for Enid’s facility.

“Employees did tend to make up their minds pretty quickly on these.”

Powell added that because of a set plan to close it was not as hard for employees to accept an opportunity to leave early versus the last such occasion in 2010, when DHS made a series of cuts.

Details of the buyout include 18 months of the employee insurance premium at the time of separation, longevity pay based on the employee’s next service anniversary, one week of pay for each year of service up to $26,000 or $5,000, whichever is greater, and payment of accumulated sick leave at half of the employee’s hourly rate.

“These offers give them a very nice cushion and go find employment elsewhere,” said Powell, noting how payments to classified and regular unclassified part-time staff will be prorated and employees accepting a VOBO cannot work for DHS for one year after accepting.

Overall, Northern Oklahoma Resource Center’s closure could come well before their proposed date of Aug. 31, 2015 as its client numbers have dropped considerably and already moved forward with a VOBO last fall, according to Powell.

She commented on the slower speed of transition at SORC by noting that at the moment there is no plan to change its proposed date of closure, which is still set at April 30 of this year.

Yet, she took the opportunity to remind people that the date itself is still more of a goal and can be moved if residents are still living there when the original proposed date comes.

She pointed out that the delay for a lot of those that remain is due to their medically fragile state and they are being careful to secure everything they need is in place before they move.

“We are still working toward those dates,” said Powell, adding how other factors like finding a place near where families or guardians live and housing availability period can also delay a move.

“As we get closer we’ll be able to tell better how much more time we might need.”

In the end, Powell said things have moved along rather smoothly and said that this is familiar territory for the agency, which has handled this for a couple of decades now.

The employees, those of which who are not needed at this stage, will end their employment on or before March 4 and there are currently 245 staff members at SORC.

DHS is also hosting a meeting of its Disability Issues Citizens Advisory Panel, which partly replaced the now defunct Commission for Human Services, on Jan. 23 at the Sequoya Building in Oklahoma City at 10 a.m.

The agenda will focus on problems and issues of developmentally disabled clients who have transitioned from both state centers to the community. Parents or interested parties are invited to attend the open meeting.

“We’ve seen some successes and things are going as they expected to,” said Powell, pointing out how necessary jobs and services will continue at the needed level, even if under contractor agreements until closure is completed.

“We’ve been doing transitions for more than 20 years… Obviously if there are still people on campuses, we will continue to work to find homes until they all have homes.”