A DHS commissioner has issued a report recommending closure of a Pauls Valley residential care center for the developmentally disabled.
Commissioners said they may vote on the proposal at their July 24 meeting, although the agenda for that meeting has not yet been set.
Under Commissioner Michael Peck’s proposal, about 46 of the 124 residents of the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley could be transferred to the state’s other residential care center for the developmentally disabled in Enid. The rest would be transitioned into community-based homes.
Peck said he is recommending closure of the Pauls Valley center by Aug. 13, 2013, because that’s the date the Oklahoma Health Department’s licensure of the institution as an intermediate care facility is scheduled to terminate if fire sprinkler systems have not been installed.
What to do about the state’s two deteriorating centers for the developmentally disabled has been a hot issue for both the Oklahoma Legislature and Department of Human Services commissioners.
“The Oklahoma state Legislature has been reluctant to finance capital improvements and maintenance,” Peck said at a commission meeting. “This has left a heavy burden on OKDHS funds that simply are not there.”
At the same time, parents and guardians of residents at the two centers have been vocal in their opposition to closing them. They have cited a phenomenon called transitional trauma in which the death rates of developmentally disabled people can rise when they are forced to adopt a different lifestyle, Peck said.
Peck said he believes a combination of consolidation and transitioning some residents to community-based homes is the best answer.
“Both ... facilities need significant improvements and maintenance to their campuses; the Enid facility just needs a lot less,” Peck said in explaining why he is proposing that the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid be kept as the surviving institution.
Peck is an optometrist with a practice in Enid, but state Rep. Jason Nelson, of Oklahoma City, chairman of the House appropriations and budget subcommittee for human services, said he doesn’t believe Peck’s evaluation is based just on parochial concerns.
The Enid center’s buildings are clearly newer and in better repair, Nelson said.
Peck also said that the Enid center has an excellent vocational program for its residents and two medical doctors and a dentist on staff.
The Pauls Valley center “does not have a vocational program, nor does it have medical/dental personnel on its staff,” he said.
“The residents of SORC have their medical needs taken care of through the emergency room at Pauls Valley Community Hospital.”
The Oklahoma Public Employees Association challenged Peck’s remarks, saying they contain some “misconceptions.”
“Contrary to the report, SORC does have a vocational program that serves the residents of SORC and several clients who live in the community,” said Trish Frazier, the organization’s policy director. “SORC has created several small businesses to employ clients including a floral shop, recycling, a thrift store and other services.
“The report mistakenly indicates that SORC clients receive their medical care at the emergency room of Pauls Valley Hospital. In addition to the nursing staff, SORC has a doctor and nurse practitioner on contract, who look after the medical needs of the clients, both for preventive and acute care.”
Frazier argued that DHS “does not have the funding or time necessary to develop resources for these clients to move into community settings.”
Sheree Powell, spokeswoman for DHS, disputed Frazier’s characterization of the agency’s capabilities, saying, “DHS does have the funding, the time, and the expertise necessary to transition residents of NORCE and SORC into community settings if they so choose, or in the event one or both of those facilities should eventually be closed.”
“Our staff have been successfully moving people from NORCE and SORC into homes in local communities for more than 10 years,” she said. “We have a robust network of contract community providers across the state ready and willing to take residents who would like to move.
“Today, we support more than 5,000 people with developmental disabilities in homes in their communities, many who have the same levels of disabilities of those currently living in the state-run facilities.”
The Pauls Valley center receives revenue from minerals on the property. Peck said he would like to see revenue from the minerals and the sale of surplus property at the Pauls Valley center be used to help pay for improvements at the Enid center.
To ease the transition for residents of the Pauls Valley center, Peck said he is proposing that some staff members there be permitted to transfer to Enid along with the residents and that one-time benefits be granted that would enable other staff members to change employment to the private sector where they could continue to care for residents transitioning to community-based group homes.
How the Legislature will respond to Peck’s proposal is unclear.
This past session, the Legislature passed a resolution rejecting a DHS proposal to reduce the maximum capacity of the Pauls Valley center to 18 and the Enid center to a maximum capacity of 102, while authorizing the transfer of up to 20 of the Pauls Valley residents to Enid. The Enid center currently has about 114 residents, an official said.
House members also passed a resolution expressing their desire that DHS not close either of the two centers during the eight months lawmakers are not in session.