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Oklahoma DHS Commission may vote on closure of state centers

After more than a year of study and repeated delays, DHS commissioners are expected to vote Thursday on whether to close Oklahoma's residential centers for adults with developmental disabilities.
by Randy Ellis Published: October 31, 2012

The proposal also asked commissioners to appoint a working group of DHS staff, family members, guardians and employees to consider long-range plans for the centers in Pauls Valley and Enid.

Talley also noted that Oklahomans will vote on a state question next Tuesday that proposes abolishing the Oklahoma Human Services Commission and replacing it with a system in which the governor would appoint the agency's director and there would be several citizen advisory boards to the agency.

“They may not even exist as a commission after the state question is voted on, so why wouldn't you wait until then to decide if you want to close the centers?” he said.

Lane, however, said commissioners have been studying the issue for more than a year, have visited the institutions, visited community-based homes, talked with family members and guardians of residents and believe it is time to make a decision.

“Until the commission ceases to exist, it needs to do its business,” Lane said, adding he believes commissioners would the shirking their responsibility if they failed to act after going to such great lengths to study the issues.

“We're going to finish this so somebody else down the road doesn't have to figure this out,” he said.

Aging facilities

The aging condition of the two centers has put pressure on commissioners to make a decision about their futures. Both were established more than 100 years ago and officials have estimated it would take $30 million to $40 million worth of improvements to keep operating them.

Many social work professionals have argued the money would be better spent transitioning residents into community-based settings, which has been the trend for years, both in-state and nationally.

Jim Nicholson, director of DHS's developmental disabilities services division, told commissioners last July that he believes experience has shown the quality of life for residents is better in well-run community-based settings than in institutions.

Newly appointed DHS Director Ed Lake supported that position in an Oct. 15 interview. He is expected to participate in his first meeting Thursday.

Parents and guardians, however, have expressed strong reservations, stating that after years of Oklahoma transitioning people with developmental disabilities into communities, most of the residents who remain in institutions are individuals with multiple severe disabilities, like low mental functioning, blindness, cerebral palsy and diabetes.

These are the individuals who are most likely to experience “transition trauma,” and perhaps even death, if forced to move, they argue.

by Randy Ellis
Investigative 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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