Study questions closure of centers for severely disabled

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Presenters at a legislative study today discussed concerns about the eventual closure of the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center (NORC) of Enid and the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center (SORC) in Pauls Valley.

“The State of Oklahoma needs to look at maintaining a safety net, making sure that one of our most vulnerable populations continues to be served in a way that family members of those individuals are comfortable with,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Mike Jackson, who requested the study. “I think the DHS commission made the decision to close both facilities hastily and that we need to re-examine that decision.”

The Pauls Valley center is scheduled to close in 2014, while the Enid center will close in 2015, according to JoAnne Goin, director of the Developmental Disability Service Division of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. The Greer Center on the same campus as the Enid center would remain.

Dr. Michael Peck, a former member of the disbanded DHS oversight commission who voted against the closure plan, said severely disabled individuals do not thrive in community-based settings and have a unique need for a residential, institutional setting like that provided by the Pauls Valley and Enid facilities, which have both had success in caring for their residents. He recommended consolidating the two facilities, leaving the Enid facility open while transitioning appropriate individuals to community-based care.

Dr. Frank Appl, the parent and guardian of a severely disabled individual who lives at the Pauls Valley facility, noted that some of the residents of the Choctaw Living Center in Oklahoma did not have anywhere to go except for the two state facilities because community-based providers would not accept them.

He also recommended maintaining at least one residential, institutional care facility.

Ryan Whitlow spoke about his daughter Ashley, a resident of the Pauls Valley facility with cerebral palsy and other disabilities who passed away Feb. 13.

He said a number of community-based centers rejected caring for his daughter before he and his wife finally came to the Pauls Valley facility. The facility gave her opportunities to socialize with others in ways she’d never known previously, he said.

Marcellus Bell, the guardian of a resident of the Enid facility, said the biggest problem with the current plan is that it is closing centers before the idea that the residents will thrive in community-based care facilities has been fully tested.

He said his brother is more capable than many of the other residents and is thriving in the facility he has been transferred to. He said the guardians of residents of the Enid facility are a tight-knit community and he recommended keeping a residential, institutional resource center available because he knows of residents who need it.

“I think Mr. Bell’s point that at the very least we should have a center open to see if the transition works is a critical one,” Jackson said. “It is a point that goes to the very heart of the matter. Why are we rushing this process and why are viable alternative plans being ignored by DHS?”

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