Lawmakers heard from health care professionals and the parents of severely disabled individuals Thursday concerned about the closure of two residential care facilities.
The discussion took place during an interim study the House Human Services Committee held to explore options for patients at both the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center (NORCE) in Enid and the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center (SORC) in Pauls Valley.
“These are individuals, these are human beings,” Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, said. “We're going to have to find a place. And, at the end of the day I think the only solution in certain instances is heavily subsidized living areas.”
NORCE currently houses more than 50 patients with developmental disabilities and is scheduled to close in August 2015. SORC houses 84 and is scheduled to close its doors April 2014. Jackson, who called for the study, worries that those individuals are going to be hard-pressed to find adequate care before their facilities close.
“What you want to make sure is you are actually able to provide those services for everybody, and just based on the last year, year and a half, that they have been trying to move people out, there's still 140 people left in the facilities,” Jackson said. “They only have a few months to actually get 84 people out of the SORC facility, which is obviously not going to happen.”
In November 2012, the Human Services Commission voted 6-3 to close the facilities and many — both in and outside of the Department of Human Services — argue that those patients should be moved to privately owned community-based facilities. That commission has since been dissolved.
Dr. Michael Peck, former DHS Commissioner from 1999 to 2013, said not only do those individuals need very specialized care that may not be available at community facilities, removing them completely from state care creates financial uncertainty.
“The only people that do not want this safety net option are the administrators who say no one should live in a congregate care facility, no matter what the professionals say, and the owners of private community-based group homes who would have the state of Oklahoma at their mercy with the care of our most profoundly disabled members who need a residential facility to lead their least restrictive lifestyle,” Peck said.
Ryan Witlow, the parent of a former patient at the SORC facility agreed, saying that the level of care the disabled citizens at the heart of the issue need is not easily found.
“We've really kind of messed this whole thing up with semantics,” Witlow said. “The word disability is a wide range of things, and what we're talking about here is the far end of the spectrum. And, community-based care is exactly the right thing for many people, but there is a level of care that doesn't make sense economically, as we've tried to talk about, to take care of.”
Jackson said that legislative action may need to be taken in the next session to address the issue. When asked what will happen to the 84 SORC clients if proper facilities are not found before the April closure date, which falls before the end of session, Jackson had no easy answer.
“That's a great question,” Jackson said.