Former DHS commissioner: Closing residential centers is a mistake

BY MICHAEL L. PECK Published: February 15, 2013
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Two hundred of our most severely handicapped and mentally disabled citizens need help, now more than ever. They don't have a voice, but their livelihoods — and in some cases their lives — are at risk. Their safe and protected environment is being eliminated for purely political reasons.

Some 11,000 intellectually and developmentally disabled people in Oklahoma depend on the Department of Human Services for support. More than 5,000 enjoy the benefits of living in community-based settings that allow them their least restrictive style of living. However, around 200 of these folks can't function without specialized care that's best provided in an institutional residential setting. Abandoning them in order to fulfill the philosophy that no one should live in an institutional environment is no less ludicrous than saying everyone with a disability should live in a segregated institutional setting.

I'm talking about precious people, with intellectual abilities of a 2-year-old, who've been living in a safe and loving environment for more than 40 years. They're being forced into a setting where they will be heavily sedated to control their behaviors or hospitalized to treat their incredibly fragile medical conditions.

The administrators and politicians who are forcing the tragic closure of two residential centers are unwilling to look at the outcomes of their plan. They portray institutions of the 1940s, '50s and '60s to prove their point that it's best for everyone to live in a community-based environment. Their erroneous depiction of the present institutional setting, and the fact that they are unable to answer the question of how to take care of the most profoundly disabled in a group home setting, proves that we need a specialized congregate care resource center.