McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

January 8, 2014

Second buyout offer: NORCE facility sheds clients

Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — NORCE employees have received a second buyout offer, just one month after the first 27 voluntarily left their jobs on mutually agreeable terms at the state facility.

Administrators met with workers Wednesday at Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid to give them a chance to leave state employment before their jobs are eliminated. NORCE is expected to close by August 2015.

This time around, the offer is the same. Up to 30 employees will be given a chance to resign and receive several benefits. Like the first buyout, the first 30 who volunteer for it can leave and receive the following:

• Payment equal to their current health insurance premium for 18 months. This applies to the employee only.

• A longevity payment that would have been paid on their next anniversary.

• One week of pay for each year employed with a minimum of $5,000 and, at most, $26,000.

• A payout of accumulated sick leave equal to one-half of the employee’s hourly wage.

Shut-down slowdown

Since a state oversight panel voted to shut down NORCE more than a year ago, the number of residents there has rapidly diminished. Parents and guardians now are forced to make plans for community-based care, which often has several developmentally disabled people living together or living with family. This model relies on private health care providers to take over daily nursing and care in place of state-paid workers.

The number of residents at the state-run facility has fallen by half in six months. According to data provided by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, there were 92 residents at NORCE in July.

As of last week, only 42 clients remained.



Alignment

With the number of residents falling, the number of staff has become proportionally too large. In describing the first voluntary buyout in October, DHS said client levels determine how many employees are needed.

“A number of clients have been moved to community placements, so these (voluntary buyouts) are an effort to align staffing requirements with the new NORCE client levels,” spokesman Mark Beutler said.

They’ve done exactly that.

In six months, the facility has shed four dozen employees and remains at around 211. It’s a far cry from the budgeted maximum of 325 full-time workers the state has allocated for NORCE. In 2008, there were 256 caregivers alone, not counting support staff.

Some of the workers’ functions have gone to private corporations that have contracted with DHS to take caregiver roles. There are 13 contracted caregivers operating on every 24-hour period, said DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell. They are provided by Sooner Medical Staffing.

“There is no set number of contracted employees to be used. They are used to fill in on various shifts to reduce overtime of the permanent employees, and to provide additional support as we work toward closure,” Powell said.



Future fights

Even as NORCE rumbles down the track toward shutting down, the fight to keep at least some part of it alive remains. Local legislators have asked Gov. Mary Fallin to keep an open mind to other options, and state Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, who is the No. 2 leader in the Oklahoma House, has made it clear he believes some NORCE residents will be better off remaining under institutionalized care.

There may be legislation offered this year that tries to change NORCE’s future, but Fallin has said community-based care is the best option, and she’s not open to compromise on the issue.

Ideally, Jackson has said, there should be some sort of state-operated residential care facility for the developmentally disabled.

NORCE’s sister facility in Pauls Valley, Southern Oklahoma Resource Center, is on a faster track to the end. It will close in April, DHS says.