MAPS 3 voters agreed in 2009 that Oklahoma City should build senior health and wellness centers as part of the 10-year, $777 million construction program.
Figuring out what a senior health and wellness center should look like and finding suitable operating partners has been characterized by false starts and differences of opinion.
With money to build the first center ready to be spent and three proposals on the table, the city council met Tuesday in a workshop to seek consensus on how the city should move forward.
Q: What are we talking about here?
A: The city plans to spend about $52 million from the 1-cent MAPS 3 sales tax on four senior health and wellness centers. The focus would be on fitness, health care and social activities. Emphasis could shift — one center could be strong on fitness, another on health care.
Seniors themselves likely will shape their center's atmosphere and activities, said Mayor Mick Cornett: “Once you open this, the seniors take over.”
Q: How will it work?
A: The city would build the centers, and partners would run them. Proposals have been made by the Oklahoma City-County Health Department; NorthCare, a nonprofit with a strong emphasis on mental health services; and Healthy Living Inc., an affiliate of Putnam City Baptist Church.
Q: What are the sources of contention?
A: Ward 8 Councilman Pat Ryan worries about “mission creep” — saying centers should be seen as “wellness centers” rather than health clinics. Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid laments lack of public transit to serve proposed centers in northeast and northwest Oklahoma City.
All three proposed centers, for the moment, would be in north Oklahoma City.
Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis objects — using the word “nonnegotiable” — to the Health Department proposal for a center at its NE 63 campus. Residents prefer Douglass Park on NE 10, he said.
“Everybody seems to have a slightly different understanding of what wellness means,” said Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer.
Q: Can they agree on anything?
A: Tuesday's discussion leader, former KOCO-TV anchor Jennifer Eve, opened the discussion by telling the mayor and eight council members, “We've got to move forward and find some areas of commonality.”
Everyone agreed swimming pools and warm therapy pools for aching joints are a must to make the senior centers a success.
“The word aquatics was used as often as the word seniors when we were promoting this,” said Ward 4 Councilman Pete White.
Council members, without voting, also agreed:
• Centers will serve seniors ages 50 and older across the social and economic spectrum, rejecting the idea of centers with programs for younger adults and youth.
• Operating partners must make them work, without city subsidies.
• Programs will be flexible to meet needs and desires of the seniors who use them.
• The city will negotiate with all three organizations that have pending proposals. Negotiations will include the possibility NorthCare could locate on the south side.
White organized the workshop and emphasized the need, four years after the MAPS 3 vote, to get the senior centers going.
“It's time to start the first one. We don't want a tie,” he said, alluding to past votes of the advisory panels that now will take a fresh look at the proposals. “We want a recommendation.”
The first center could be in south Oklahoma City if negotiations lead to a deal with NorthCare.
Variations in proposals — NorthCare's relative emphasis on health care, Healthy Living's emphasis on fitness and social activities — are “just different ways to skin the same cat,” White said.
An ability to manage the financial end of the equation could be a deciding factor, he said.
“Let's talk from a business standpoint who is able to do it,” White said.
“The fact that it was such a civil conversation that lasted two-and-a-half hours is a big accomplishment to me,” he said.
“That's moving it back toward getting an answer rather than being snarky with one another, and I think that's where we need to be.”