Ed Lake, former deputy director of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, has accepted the position of director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, agency officials announced Monday.
“I want to hit the ground running,” said Lake, 64, of Hendersonville, Tenn.
He will be given that opportunity.
The Oklahoma Commission for Human Services has scheduled a meeting for Nov. 1 — Lake's first day on the job — where it is expected to consider voting on whether to close one or both of Oklahoma's residential centers for developmentally disabled adults in Pauls Valley and Enid, an agency spokeswoman said.
The issue has been highly controversial, with vocal parent/guardian groups showing up to protest every time the issue has been raised, while many social work professionals have advocated moving residents to community-based settings as a way to improve residents' quality of life while saving the state money.
“It's a wrenching decision,” Lake said.
“Parents have children and loved ones that from their perspective have done well in an institution, but it's still an institution. Of course, here again, you have to develop appropriate, caring comprehensive resources for people. You can't just put them out there and expect them to thrive, but … my personal opinion is that people will do better in community-based resources than they will in an institution over a period of time.”
“It's an institution,” he said. “It's not always convenient to where the family is, so you have issues of visiting and staying in contact, and then there's just the institutional life. They don't call it institutionalized for nothing — what happens to people.”
Lake said he doesn't know Oklahoma well enough yet to voice an opinion on whether all the institutions should be closed.
There are 124 residents at the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley and 111 at the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid, an agency spokeswoman said.
Lake said Tennessee went through a similar transition, although not within the department where he had responsibility. While there was “angst” in the beginning, “slowly but surely” things got better there, he said.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin issued a prepared statement Monday praising Lake's selection.
“I applaud the selection of Edward Lake as the next director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services,” Fallin said. “With experience at nearly every level of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, Ed understands the challenges of managing an agency that interacts with the public at many levels. He has proved himself an effective leader who was able to work with the agency and external stakeholders to improve the quality of services delivered to clients.”
Fallin's approval of Lake is important, since Oklahomans will vote Nov. 6 on a state question that calls for abolishing the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services and replacing it with four advisory panels.