Oklahoma to close decaying centers for the developmentally disabled
BY JARREL WADE World Staff Writer
Friday, November 02, 2012
11/02/12 at 7:52 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - In an emotionally charged meeting that could be its last, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services oversight commission voted Thursday to close two care centers for developmentally disabled people.
Several dozen people in the audience reacted negatively to the vote and applauded several statements that favored keeping the facilities open.
In addition to families affected by the closures, state Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, fought the commission's resolution, arguing that it hadn't been provided in advance to the families.
"Chairman (Wes Lane), you're making a mockery of this process," Anderson said to the commission, formally known as the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services, without being invited to speak during the special meeting.
Public comment was not allowed as it had been at prior meetings.
Commissioner Michael Peck of Enid said the plan was created "behind closed doors" by DHS staff and the Governor's Office and ignored a year of commission involvement.
Lane said recent statements made by Anderson, including a recent press release alleging that Gov. Mary Fallin was throwing disabled people on the street, were "childish and immature."
Lane said Peck's allegations were not accurate and have been part of an attempt to politicize a tough decision.
"This has not been political," Lane said. "No one from the governor on down told anyone what to do."
The issue has drawn attention from proponents of both facilities, from the Governor's Office and from the Legislature for more than a year as officials wrestled with whether to reinvest in the outdated facilities or follow the path to community-based homes that DHS has been moving toward for decades.
Lane said more than 200 people remain in the public facilities but that more than 7,000 patients in Oklahoma participate in community-based homes and Medicaid waiver programs.
The centers - the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid and the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley - are the last state facilities for adults with developmental disabilities.
The commissioners voted 6-3 to close the Enid facility April 30, 2014, and the Pauls Valley facility Aug. 31, 2015.
The resolution includes plans to have no additional financial burden for residents or their families, to have a case manager for each resident, and to provide other services to help in the transition from the facilities to community-based homes.
Sheila Day, the mother of a developmentally disabled 21-year-old man at the Pauls Valley center, said she doesn't trust DHS to see the plan through.
"How do we trust it?" she asked. "I'm afraid."
Day said that even if DHS sees the plan through to the end, her son, Justin Day, who has lived in institutions for 12 years, could be subjected to higher prices without the public facility option.
"It's going to be very hard," she said.
Thursday was the first day on the job for Ed Lake, the newly hired DHS director.
Lake said he was prepared for the contentious meeting and said he has been through similar meetings during his decades working in the Tennessee Department of Human Services.
"You can understand families ... being concerned down the road," he said. But "they (the commissioners) did due diligence. At the end of the day, I think it's the right decision."
Both state-run facilities were established more than 100 years ago, and currently 123 residents live at the Pauls Valley facility and 108 residents at the Enid facility.
More than 7,000 families are on a waiting list for developmental disability services, Lane said.
"We could not, in good conscience, request an appropriation of 30 million to 40 million state dollars to spend on capital improvements for buildings when funds are needed to help these families who are waiting and struggling," Lane said in a statement.
"That is why we asked the governor to create a new panel to develop a comprehensive plan for supporting people with developmental disabilities and their parents and families."
The special meeting to welcome Lake and to vote on the resolution may be a farewell for commissioners if a Nov. 6 state question abolishes the board.
If voters affirm the state question, several advisory councils would be created, and the DHS director would answer directly to the Governor's Office.
Original Print Headline: Closing of care centers OK'd
Jarrel Wade 918-581-8367
New DHS Director Ed Lake greets employees during a commendation ceremony before a Department of Human Services oversight commission meeting in Oklahoma City on Thursday. It was Lake's first day on the job. GARETT FISBECK/for the Tulsa World
Sheila Day reacts with emotion as the Department of Human Services oversight commission passes a resolution Thursday that will close the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley, where her 21-year-old developmentally disabled son lives. GARETT FISBECK/for the Tulsa World