DHS commissioners voted Thursday to close Oklahoma's two residential centers for adults with developmental disabilities at a heated meeting in which Commission Chairman Wes Lane threatened to have a state senator escorted out of the packed meeting room.
The commission voted 6-3 to close the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid and the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley.
Commissioners set an April 30, 2014, deadline for the closure of the Pauls Valley center and an Aug. 31, 2015, deadline for the closure of the Enid institution.
There are 123 residents at the Pauls Valley center and 108 at the center in Enid.
The vote outraged dozens of family members who were in attendance.
“The commission threw us under the bus. They did not make the right decision,” said Rosella House of Hinton, who has a son in one of the centers.
Patricia Appl, who has a sister at the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center, said she resented commissioners describing family members as scared and not understanding what was best for residents.
“I am not scared and irrational,” she said. “We live in the real world with these real people.”
Appl said she is deeply concerned by the commissioners' vote and hopes “other citizens will be equally concerned and express their concerns in their votes on Tuesday.”
One of the state questions on next Tuesday's ballot calls for eliminating the Human Services Commission and replacing it with a system where the governor appoints the DHS director and there are a series of advisory panels.
The aging condition of the Enid and Pauls Valley centers has put pressure on commissioners to make a decision about their futures. Both are more than 100 years old and officials have estimated it would take $30 million to $40 million worth of repairs to keep them open.
The vote to close the centers was preceded by a verbal clash between Commission Chairman Lane, a former district attorney, and state Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid.
Anderson had angered commissioners the previous day by issuing a news release with a headline that said: “Governor directs DHS Commission to throw disabled out on street.”
Commissioner Brandon Clabes criticized Anderson for that remark, saying he was “appalled” and wanted people to know “that was absolutely incorrect.”
Thursday, Anderson once again aggravated commissioners by walking to the microphone and criticizing them for preparing to vote on a resolution to close the centers without first giving family members of residents a chance to read and respond to it.
Chairman Lane quickly ruled Anderson out of order.
“Sir, you are out of order, and I'm going to do one of two things,” Lane said. “I'm going to ask you to maintain the decorum, or I'm going to ask you to leave. What's it going to be?”
Anderson retorted that Lane was “making a mockery of this entire process,” prompting Lane to threaten to have him removed if he didn't cease.
Anderson then walked away from the microphone.
Before presenting the resolution to close the centers, Lane publicly read a one-page letter sent to state newspapers by Diana McCalment, the former president of Hissom Memorial Center in Sand Springs. Hissom is an institution similar to the centers at Pauls Valley and Enid that was closed in 1994 due to a class-action lawsuit that resulted in residents being moved into community-based settings.
“When the court ordered Hissom closed, I thought I had lost control and choice,” McCalment wrote. “I couldn't have been more wrong.”
McCalment said her son's subsequent life in the community was the “most fulfilling time of his life,” and that she now fully supports closing both remaining institutions.
Lane told the crowd of more than 200 people that commissioners had studied and agonized over the decision for months before concluding that closure of the institutions and moving residents to community-based settings provided them with the best opportunity for meaningful and productive lives.
Commissioner Michael Peck of Enid, who in June presented a proposal to close just the Pauls Valley center and move some of its residents to the Enid facility, urged commissioners to vote against Lane's resolution.
Peck said while his plan was undergoing public scrutiny, the governor's office and staff members of the DHS department of developmental disabilities services division were putting together the plan voted on Thursday “behind closed doors.”
“Interestingly, I was given no input on how this resolution works and I don't think any of the other commissioners were, either,” he said.