Both advocates and opponents of closing Oklahoma's two institutions for adults with developmental disabilities say they want what's best for the 231 people who live there.
Those Department of Human Services staff members who have pushed to close the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley and Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid have passionately argued that moving residents to community-based settings produces a better quality of life.
Parents and guardians of institution residents who oppose closure have argued with equal passion that moving residents is likely to cause transition trauma and lead to developmental setbacks and perhaps even deaths.
But what do parents and guardians of residents who have already moved from the institutions say about the results?
The Oklahoman interviewed several of them to find out.
The reports were mixed.
Life improved for sons
Susie Tingle, 57, said her twin sons spent about 10 years at the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center before she moved them 10 years ago to McCall's Chapel in Ada. “I was astounded how much life improved,” Tingle said. “I wish I had done it much sooner.”
Tingle said both of her sons were extremely medically fragile, suffering from a degenerative brain disease and blindness, and one died five years ago.
Tingle said there was a time when she would have “argued until the cows came home” against moving her sons from the Pauls Valley center, but she now believes that she made the right decision.
When her sons first moved, Tingle said she had to intervene with state officials to make sure all the medical needs of her boys were met. She said her advice to parents and guardians is to stay involved in the care of their loved ones to obtain the best outcome.
Horrific results from move
Sherry Randell, 52, of Ratliff City, said she moved her son, Richard Allen “Bubba” Randell Jr., from the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center to a group home in 2006 and the result was horrific.
Her son's caretakers drank beer and took him to casinos, Randell said.
Bubba, who has the mental ability of a 7-year-old, was on one behavioral medicine when he left the Pauls Valley facility, but his new doctor took him off that medication and put him on 19 others, she said.
Even more shocking, Randell said when she went to visit him in 2008, she found him “black and blue,” the victim of a beating.
Bubba, now 29, had to be taken to a hospital where he was treated for a leg infection that nearly killed him, she said.
Randell said she returned her son to the Pauls Valley center and he is back to taking one behavioral pill in the morning and one at night.
“Today my son is very, very happy. He's healthy,” said Randell, who doesn't want to be forced to move him again.
Sister flourished after move
Carl Foster's sister, Sonya, 42, lived 26 years at the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center before moving to a home in Bethany 12 or 13 years ago. Foster said his sister has flourished since the move.
Foster said his sister shares a home with two other women. All three have cerebral palsy, are severely disabled and receive round-the-clock care, he said.
“They take them shopping. They take them to the mall. They've taken them to the fair … . They take them on walks to the park … in their wheelchairs,” he said. Foster said he believes his sister is happier because she receives more one-on-one care.
Some benefit, others won't
Mary Anna Nall, 75, of Enid, worked 20 years for the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center, but now cares for one of the institution's former residents in her home.
“They do a very good job,” she said of the Enid center's workers.
Still, Nall said she believes the 36-year-old woman for whom she cares, Danielle Ioerger, has benefited from the move out into the community.
Nall said she believes some other institution residents would benefit from moves into the community, but not everyone.
Nall said she has concerns that community-based homes are not as well equipped as institutions to handle residents with certain medical problems such as severe seizures and diabetes.