McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

October 17, 2013

In need of options: Guardians of NORCE clients meet legislators

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

OKLAHOMA CITY — Parents and guardians of the developmentally disabled continued to bang the drum Thursday before legislators and key agency personnel.

Led by the man who called the hearing, state Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, they argued there should be more than one option for clients being forced to move out of the state’s two large residential facilities.

Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid is scheduled to close in 2015, while Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley is to close next year.

NORCE clients, many of whom are there because of profound mental or physical impairments, already are moving into community-based care.

Rather than live at the NORCE campus, they typically live in a private home. Sometimes a group of three will band together to rent or buy a home and share caretakers, said JoAnne Goin, the state agency chief who oversees developmental disability services.

Dr. Michael Peck, an Enid resident who served on the commission overseeing DHS before it was disbanded by a vote of the people, said the state should let SORC close, and keep NORCE open for whoever needs it. The plan wouldn’t require additional funding, and NORCE could start generating revenue by providing fee-for-service options for those living in the community and rural areas, he said.

“There are less than 200 of these people who desperately need the safety net option of a residential and institutional setting,” Peck said.

None of those who were invited to speak to House Human Services Committee completely opposes moving their loved ones into a community setting. Instead, like Jackson, they ask the state maintain some kind of facility.

“What I was trying to prove is there’s a need for a residential-type of facility. Maybe either privatized or state-run. But it has to be a state bed,” Jackson said.

He said if the state moves all of its residents into private care by 2015 as expected, the first thing those private providers will do is ask for more money.

“And we’ll have no alternative to that,” he said.

Developmental Disability Services Deputy Director Marie Moore said it costs the state $330 a day for each community-based client and about $440 a day per client living in a state-run facility.

Jackson is considering his options for the legislative session, which begins in February. SORC is expected to close in April.

Ideally, Jackson said, DHS will walk back its decision to close the facilities and consider an alternative plan.

The committee was told that some residents will thrive more in a state-run bed. Enid resident Marcellus Bell, the brother of someone who recently moved out of NORCE and into a private home, said he’s met some clients who wouldn’t make the transition very well.

“I think Mr. Bell’s point that at the very least we should have a center open to see if the transition works, is a critical one,” Jackson said. “It is a point that goes to the very heart of the matter. Why are we rushing this process, and why are viable alternative plans being ignored by DHS?”