‘It’s a terrible wait for families’: Why some Oklahomans are waiting 13 years for assistance

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Up to 13 years on the waiting list, that’s what Oklahoma’s developmentally disabled face when trying to get a waiver for services. On Tuesday, lawmakers and state agencies trying to get to the bottom of why, despite increases in funding, the wait has gotten longer in the last few years.

“I know Oklahoma and the Oklahoma standard, it’s way better than waiting 13 years,” said Wanda Felty.

Felty, a parent of a developmentally disabled child, is an advocate for the developmentally disabled. She spoke out at Tuesday’s hearing at the Oklahoma State Capitol. The Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency, or LOFT, presented the findings of their 12-month study into why the DDS waiting list continues to get longer despite more funding.

“DHS’s management of the waiver program hasn’t not led to substantial progress towards the state’s goal of providing services for those waiting,” said one Loft Official.

“The data is just plain out wrong. We just don’t believe this is a worthwhile use of time and resources,” said Oklahoma State Department of Human Services Executive Director Justin Brown.

Photo goes with story
OKDHS Response to the Draft LOFT Report

The exchange became heated at times. The two disagree on the statistics.

LOFT reports that as of March, almost 5,700 Oklahomans were on the wait list, and the average wait time now sits at 13 years . They say the State has provided 54 million dollars in additional funding in the last 5 years, yet 119 fewer Oklahomans have been served.

“It’s a terrible wait for families. Of course, we want more to be served, but you also have an obligation to those who are currently on the actual service list to provide for their needs as they age so the cost associated with those services just gets dramatically more expensive as time goes on,” said Brown.

“They can argue over whose data is correct but the bottom line is the total number of people receiving services has gone down over the last 10 year, so that is what we need to focus on,” said RoseAnn Duplan of the Oklahoma Disability Law Center.

DDS advocates say Tuesday’s hearing was a step in the right direction in bringing all parties to the table, something they say DHS has not done recently. LOFT officials offered solutions to fix the wait.

“There is the opportunity to get to zero. It does take money. It does take an understanding of those that are currently waiting and it comes with a strategic plan that gets you to the end goal of eliminating the waiting list,” said LOFT Executive Director Mike Jackson.

“When we talk about the waiting list these are real people not just a nebulous list,” said Rep. Jon Echols of Oklahoma City.

Lawmakers asked questions of all parties involved. Ultimately it will be up to the legislature to provide more funds and law changes to get more disabled Oklahomans help.

“I’m committed, as well as the budget chair, to help fund our waiting list to get it to zero,” said Rep. Kevin Wallace of Wellston.

DHS was given $2 million more in this coming year’s budget. The next time they could get more would be next spring when the legislature prepares the 2023 budget.

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