Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

February 28, 2013

PGA backs bill to overturn SORC closure

Ezra Mann
Pauls Valley Democrat — The deadline for closure of both the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center and NORCE only inches nearer with each passing day, but for those still fighting to prevent it, yet another form of support has come from the legislative level.

This time those efforts are coming from north of the Pauls Valley campus through state Rep. Mike Jackson of Enid, who introduced House Bill 2053 earlier this month in an effort to cancel the plan approved by the now defunct Commission for Human Services.

Though any bill would still be subject for final approval by Gov. Mary Fallin, it’s a move welcomed by those like Pauls Valley Parent Guardian Association President Ken Talley, who still feels the Department of Human Services has not provided enough information to prove that all clients can be transitioned cost effectively into community settings.

“They never have answered our questions on how it will save costs,” said Talley, adding how they would also like to see more information showing how well clients have transitioned from SORC in the past.

“Our analysis shows we can do it more efficiently at the center… It may not come through DHS, but it will cost the state more money.”

The bill also asks that DHS develop a plan for the former state schools that takes into account and addresses the most vulnerable residents, family or guardians unwilling to change the placement of a resident and developing a safety mechanism to ensure the beds are provided in the required conditions.

Talley maintains that the costs could only be more in the community because of the medical care alone for the most disabled since they have to have nurses monitor them 24 hours a day.

If passed, the bill would become effective November of this year and a new plan, subject to approval by legislators, would be due by March 1, 2014 and would become effective after that date.

Talley has made it clear in the past that he does not have a problem with community care as an option, but does not believe the choice of SORC or NORCE should be taken away.

Talley added how the decision for closure ultimately felt rushed since there was no established plan until well after closure was approved.

He is still open to sitting down with DHS officials and discussing these points and was thankful the legislation reflects this.

“It looked like this was kind of a hurry up,” said Talley. “They didn’t allow us any input.”

The Oklahoma Public Employee Association also provided a press release in response, questioning how community settings can save money for the severely disabled since federal and state dollars still are matched for care.

They also noted how the trend of the whole country going toward community care is misrepresented since quite a few continue to be admitted to facilities in other states.

“Contrary to information that has been circulated, other states have not closed their facilities… Across the nation 1,981 people were admitted into large state-operated facilities in 2009,” as stated in the release. “In 2009, the average daily population of persons with disabilities living in state-operated facilities was 660. Oklahoma’s average was 289.”

According to state Senator Susan Paddack’s office, it may be the only piece of legislation in either form of state government that has a chance of overturning closure plans. The law she is proposing, SB 303, has been set aside after word that State Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Clark Jolley has no plans to let it proceed.

Her bill proposed keeping both resource centers open as community options people could seek services at with a limited number of beds.

The current closure plan has a proposed date of April 30, 2014 for SORC and Aug. 31, 2015 for NORCE.

There is no date set for when Jackson’s bill would be heard on the house floor.

“We’re going to continue now that those answers are forthcoming,” said Talley. “These are the most severe and profound residents and they don’t deserve this type of setting they are talking about... it’s about choice.”