OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Family members of some of Oklahoma’s most severely developmentally disabled residents urged a state panel on Tuesday not to proceed with plans to shut down or scale back operations at a facility in Pauls Valley.
The Oklahoma Commission for Human Services is considering different options for the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center (SORC) in Pauls Valley, a sprawling campus on more than 800 acres in Garvin County that houses 124 developmentally disabled adults and employs about 350 state workers.
The department last year recommended dramatically scaling back operations at the center and transitioning the residents to privately operated, community-based group homes, but the Legislature rejected that after resistance from parents of SORC residents and area lawmakers.
A proposal discussed last month by commission member Michael Peck of Enid to transfer many of the residents to the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center (NORCE) in Enid also drew fierce opposition.
“These much greater distances to Enid would impede and prevent many parents and relatives from visiting their developmentally disabled kin if they moved to Enid,” said Franklin Appl, whose 46-year-old daughter has lived at SORC for 33 years.
Appl said Tuesday that his daughter needs extensive medical care and he fears she would suffer a phenomenon dubbed “transition trauma” if forced to move from the facility to which she has grown accustomed.
“I don’t think my daughter would last a year,” Appl said. “She’d die. My personal opinion is there are many people who want to make these unfortunate people into profit centers.”
But many human services professionals recommend moving most developmentally disabled individuals into community-based homes in residential areas where they still have 24-hour supervision and access to medical care.
“We have a history of 20 years of community-based placement that demonstrates it is safe to move people out of facilities,” said Jim Nicholson, the director of DHS’ Developmentally Disabled Services Division. “We cannot say that people have to live in institutions in order to get their needs met. It is simply not true and is not substantiated by the evidence of the last 20 years.”
It’s a difficult issue for political leaders, who also are faced with mounting budget costs for operating the two facilities — more than $22 million annually per facility. And the SORC facility must install costly sprinkler systems inside several buildings on the campus by August 2013.
A legislative analysis last year estimated that the two facilities are in need of an estimated $30 million in repairs.
A plan for the commission to vote on Peck’s proposal last week was tabled at the request of Gov. Mary Fallin, who has appointed four of the current eight members of the commission. One seat on the nine-member panel is vacant after Commissioner Jay Dee Chase died earlier this month.
Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger, who is DHS’ interim director, said the governor plans to review all of the proposals and visit both facilities in Enid and Pauls Valley before taking action.
Doerflinger also reported Tuesday that most child-welfare workers at DHS have been given a raise of approximately $200 per month, which was among the recommendations of a settlement agreement after the agency was sued over the care it provided to children in foster care.
The agency agreed to make numerous improvements to its child-welfare system and has developed its so-called Pinnacle Plan that still must be approved by the plaintiffs, New-York based advocacy group Children’s Rights. Commissioner Brad Yarbrough said the latest draft of the plan will be presented for approval this week.
Tuesday’s meeting was the first for two new commissioners — Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes and University of Central Oklahoma administrator Myron Pope.