Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part series of stories investigating conditions in Oklahoma's group homes for the mentally disabled, mentally ill and elderly. The investigation was conducted by reporters from the Tulsa World and The Oklahoman.
OKARCHE — High employee turnover rates and low wages are affecting staff at a center for the mentally disabled here, a pattern some experts say is not isolated. Court records show nearly 30 employees from the Center of Family Love have received wage garnishments over the past 15 years; about ten since 2007. Most of the garnishments were due to individuals defaulting on payday loans. Many have also filed for bankruptcy and received money judgments against them. Jim O’Brien, executive director for the center, said the problems are because of reimbursement rates from the state and federal government. “They (employees) only average $8 to $9 per hour and can’t make it,” O’Brien said. “So they borrow from the small loan companies and then can’t make the payments.” O’Brien said he often has three to five employees at a time with wages being garnished. Center to expand The center has a 54-bed ICFMR, two smaller group homes and a geriatric center for older mentally disabled residents. About 100 individuals live on the campus, O’Brien said. The Oklahoma Knights of Columbus Foundation built the main structure in 1981. O’Brien hopes to start construction this year on smaller dormitories. It’s an estimated $7 million project during a time when many places are contracting, O’Brien said.