DHS commissioner recommends closure of Pauls Valley center

by Randy Ellis Published: June 17, 2012
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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.”

Transitional trauma

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 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.

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by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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