Pauls Valley Democrat
What has been a highly divisive and debated issue through care for disabled residents over the past several years resulted in a decision Thursday, both met with praise and condemnation.
Both feelings resulted after a special meeting for the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services in Oklahoma City where commissioners voted six to three to close both the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley and its sister site in Enid.
Conducted primarily by Commission Chairman Wes Lane, the conclusion of a Department of Human Services (DHS) plan presented was that while money could continue to be dedicated to maintain aging facilities like those in Pauls Valley, the best option appeared to be a transition to various forms of community based care.
“So now the decision on what to do with these facilities rests with this commission. Do we request an appropriation of $34 million to expend on needed capitol improvements at these facilities... Or do we transition the residents out of resource centers into homes in communities where they can live like the majority of Oklahomans with the same developmental disabilities,” Lane said before the vote, adding how the vote was important because he did not feel it was appropriate to pass the issue on to someone else or delay it any further.
“Over the past year this commission has devoted a considerable amount of time on determining the future of these two remaining state owned operating facilities that provide care to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities... now we are at a crossroads.”
Though the meeting agenda did not allow for comments from those in attendance, Commissioner Mike Peck of Enid did call for a plea for his fellow commissioners to reject the proposal.
He referenced his own plan that would have closed SORC and transitioned residents to both NORCE and community options and how it was both denied a vote when Gov. Mary Fallin suspended any action to review the matter personally and when new commissioners were appointed several weeks ago.
Peck questioned the vote that only appeared days before election day on Tuesday that offers voters a chance to abolish the DHS commission through State Question 765.
His alternatives suggested allowing the advisory panel which would be then put in place if the commission were abolished handle the matter or even if the commission remained, to take a retreat to revisit any plans further.
“Four days ago I was given a draft on the resolution on how the commission was going to deal the SORC, NORCE and the community based issue... interestingly I was given no input on how this resolution works and I don’t think any of the other commissioners were either,” said Peck.
“I realize that the greatest risk that we take in the state of Oklahoma by not offering this other option is that the home based care providers will have the state of Oklahoma basically hostage because they don’t have to take anybody they don’t want to,” he said.
“If we don’t have another option for them then they can set the fees at whatever they want because we no longer have any choice.”
According to the plan, it calls for a closure date of no later than April 30, 2014 for SORC and Aug. 31, 2015 for NORCE.
As far as transition, the plan notes how parents or guardians will be involved in the process of developing a community home for their loved ones with no additional cost or burden. Along with the support provided, no clients would be transferred until everything needed is in place.
Each resident will be assigned a case manager to make sure needs are being met with access to everything that community provides and to make sure that happens the Disability Services Division will allocate resources to meet the needs.
However, as all of the details of the plan is not complete, a panel of parents, professionals and state agency representatives will develop the rest of the plan to deal with transition as well as help individuals on the waiting list for home and community based services.
“I also have learned that the empirical data that’s been presented to me shows transition to community based housing from the institutional setting are without a doubt in my mind the best decision for the clients,” said Commissioner Brandon Clabes.
“Will everybody thrive and improve with this change, only God knows and I firmly believe the majority, if not all will be better,” Clabes said.
After the vote was held and during a recess, a few of the parents or guardians from SORC took the time to address their displeasure with commissioners and the new DHS director, Ed Lake.
Shelia Day, who has a loved one currently at the former state school in Pauls Valley, struggled to speak through tears as she explained how well he has done and how his condition could be jeopardized in a transition.
“I’m just devastated,” said Day, noting how she had finally found a place where Justin has thrived at 21 years old since he was 12 despite it being the third place for him.
“They’ve just squeezed and squeezed and I’m afraid he’ll be one of the 15 percent that don’t survive... I don’t need people to make promises they cannot keep.”
Editors note: This is the first part of a series of stories based on the issue, more to follow in a future edition of the PV Democrat.