Pauls Valley Democrat
For those who were left reeling earlier this month due to a decision to close Oklahoma’s two remaining disability institutions with one in Pauls Valley, the process has not left much time for everyone to make their next move.
Among those with not enough time to absorb how quickly a move toward an Oklahoma Commission for Human Services vote progressed is state Rep. Lisa J. Billy.
Though she was not 100 percent opposed to alternatives being offered for Pauls Valley’s Southern Oklahoma Resource Center or it’s sister site NORCE, it’s been hard to digest why both Gov. Mary Fallin would come out in support of such a move and why there was no consideration other than purely community based living options.
“I’m concerned and shocked Gov. Fallin supports closing those facilities,” said Billy, noting how the process has already started with DHS assigning people to work with clients on placement options. “I want to make sure residents are placed comfortably.”
This has placed Billy in a difficult situation where she must find ways to make sure any transitions that do happen are to her constituents’ satisfaction, yet also be there to try and make sure those who feel the former state schools are the best option are not ignored either.
She said she’d even be more comfortable if NORCE had been decided as the only facility to remain just so the option existed.
However, the biggest problem Billy has with the recent decision is it leaves parents and clients in a hard spot if the home based option fails for any of those families.
If the facilities close as planned April 30, 2014 and a client cannot adjust, there would be no going back and it would leave them in a vulnerable position.
“I don’t believe that is a good mode to go by,” said Billy. “I feel like if we don’t work with families in this placement, the families will get left behind.”
In order to at least see if the facilities can have another chance to keep one or both open Billy will be working with her colleagues to try and introduce some kind of legislation before the December deadline to either change or overturn the now defunct commission’s vote.
The hurdles there won’t make it easy since she is uncertain of how well it will do outside of the House and even if the state Senate also approves a measure, Gov. Fallin can veto it and force an even less likely scenario of it becoming law through a requirement of two thirds majority vote.
“We are going to look at legislation,” said Billy. “I think we should still have a state run facility if it doesn’t work.”
In any case, Billy wants to make sure whatever the final solution is that the clients at either facility do not become victims throughout the process.
She does see some good being developed like a plan where housing is already being built near the Ardmore area and if there is going to be housing, that there should be a multiple duplex situation to ensure as many eyes as possible are keeping track of client care.
“In the end it may not be everything I want, but I want to make sure everyone is taken care of,” said Billy. “We are going to work with families to stay involved with them.”
Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two part article, more will be published in the next edition of the Democrat.