Each month, The Oklahoman's editorial board recognizes a contributor to Your Views for a letter to the editor that presents a point of view in a cogent and timely way. Julie Rinehart of Oklahoma City is the honoree for letters that appeared in Your Views last month. Her “Changes welcome” letter was published Jan. 27.
Meet the writer:
Julie Rinehart is a habilitation training specialist with Dungarvin, a Norman company providing care to people with developmental disabilities through the Medicaid Home and Community Based Waiver. For the past year and a half she has been providing direct care and teaching life skills to a home of three men, and she has been working in this field for 12 years. Rinehart, 36, has lived in Oklahoma City since 1995. She's studying sociology at Oklahoma City Community College. Her letter was inspired by her work with individuals who used to live in state institutions and how she has seen their lives improve through re-integration into society and life in a smaller setting.
Regarding “Centers for disabled to see change” (Jan. 22): It's understandably feared by concerned parents that most of the people living in our state institutions are too medically fragile to receive proper care in the community. However, there are many with the same kinds of disabilities and medical issues as these individuals currently living in the community through the Medicaid waivered program. As one who works in that program, I know the system may not be perfect and improvements can always be made in order to better meet the needs of these individuals.
The bigger issue is this: Should we spend our limited resources maintaining a dying system that “puts people away” in institutions, keeping them apart from society? Or should we work to support and improve a system that includes all people in the community and recognizes their right to be a part of society?
Unlike other states, Oklahoma can't seem to break away from the idea that there are just some people who need institutions. We think, “That's the way we've always done it.” Remember, though, before institutions, it was commonplace to house people with intellectual disabilities in jails, hide them in attics, and leave them as newborns to die in the woods. That's the way we'd always done it.
We should now be looking forward to a time when we say, “Our fellow citizens with developmental disabilities? They live next door to us, of course. They're part of our community. That's the way we've always done it.”
Julie Rinehart, Oklahoma City