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DHS Commission votes to close developmental disability institutions

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- By a 6-to-3 vote on Thursday, the Oklahoma Commission For Human Services decided to close two institutions for adults with developmental disabilities.

Its residents will eventually move into community-based settings with the goal of having a better quality of life.

But family members of those residents wanted to delay the vote, saying the DHS Commission didn't care about hearing their concerns.

State Senator Patrick Anderson (R-Dist. 19) was nearly thrown out of the meeting.

"The resolution has not been provided to these families," he told Chairman Wes Lane. "It has not been provided to the legislature."

Lane interrupted Sen. Anderson saying, "Sir, you are out of order" and threatened to have him removed from the room.

Within three years, DHS will close the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid (NORCE) and the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center (SORC) in Pauls Valley.

More than 200 people with developmental disabilities live there but they will now have to be moved to a community-based setting.

"What we're doing for these 231 residents, we are already doing for 5,000 people (in Oklahoma)," Lane said.

Lane told the crowd it would cost the state $30 million to $40 million to maintain the two facilities that were built more than 100 years ago.

He's confident the state has proven it can provide the same level of care in a community setting.

"We're not, like, blazing a new trail here," Lane said. "We've had 20 years of doing this."

Carl Foster said he agrees after seeing his sister make the transition.

"I want to see others get the same opportunity to flourish in the community because quite honestly, the institutions seem more like a prison than a home," he said.

But Rosella House was upset at the vote.

Her 47-year-old son had 24-hour care in the Pauls Valley facility.

Now she fears what the future will bring.

"We're fine with where we're at, that's the reason we're fighting," she said. "We're happy that we've got this place. I was out in a private facility and it was horrible."

Opponents wondered why the DHS Commission wanted to vote on this issue when, on election Tuesday, they could be abolished by voters in State Question 765.

But Lane said this was an issue of responsibility and they needed to finish their business after studying the issue for a long time.

Sen. Anderson, however, said in a statement Wednesday, "Clearly the governor wants the commission to take the blame for the vote so she can avoid taking responsibility for this decision."

SORC will be closed by April of 2014.

NORCE will close its doors by August of 2015.

Lane said no one will be moved until full supports are in place.