Thursday, November 1, 2012

UPDATED: Community Services Initiative for Oklahomans with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Approved by DHS Commission

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Human Services Commission voted 6-3 yesterday on a historic set of community service initiatives for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities supported by the agency’s Developmental Disabilities Services Division (DDSD).

During a special meeting, the Commission passed resolutions directing the two remaining state-run institutions for people with developmental disabilities, the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid (NORCE) and the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley (SORC), be closed over the next two years and the 231 residents transitioned into community homes. DDSD is currently providing services and support to more than 5,000 persons with all levels of developmental and physical disabilities to live in their own homes and communities, a proven best practice in providing care for people with disabilities. The Commission oversees DDSD.

Wes Lane, Chairman
OKDHS Commission
“We realize this is an emotional decision involving change for the residents and their families as well as the employees of the facilities,” said Wes Lane, Chairman of the Human Services Commission. “We determined after studying this issue in depth for the better part of a year that this is the right decision at the right time. DDSD has spent the past 20 years developing a comprehensive community service system that provides care and support to the vast majority of people receiving services who have all levels of disabilities,” said Lane. “Community services offer more personalized care and a higher quality of life to individuals, making institutional care a thing of the past.”

Four state lawmakers said they were surprised and dismayed by the Commission’s decision to close both institutions.

The decision was surprising in that it ignored a proposal submitted by Commissioner Michael Peck to close just the Pauls Valley center and move its 123 residents to the Enid center, state Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, said.

“Ideally, we would have liked to see both stay open,” Enns said. “At the very least though, we thought the DHS commission would keep the Enid center.”

State Senator Patrick Anderson, Rep. Mike Jackson and Rep. Lisa Billy said the commissioners erred.

“I don’t support the closure of either center. I think the overall process was flawed and I was surprised by the decision,” said Jackson, R-Enid.

Both NORCE and SORC were established more than 100 years ago when that was the only option for providing care to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. SORC was opened in 1907 and originally known as the “State Training School for White Boys,” and NORCE opened in 1909 as the “Oklahoma Institute for the Feeble Minded.” At the height of institutional care in Oklahoma, both facilities housed more than 1,000 residents.

In the 1960’s, another state-run institution was added, The Hissom Memorial Center in Sand Springs. Hissom was closed in 1994 when a group of parents filed a class action lawsuit demanding the state create community service options for their children. DDSD successfully transitioned more than 400 Hissom residents, many requiring 24-hour a day nursing care, into community homesLong-term studies on the Hissom residents show they lead healthier, more active livesOver the past 10 years, DDSD has successfully transitioned many residents of NORCE and SORC into community homes, typically closer to their families.

Governor Mary Fallin today praised the Oklahoma Human Services Commission for its vote to complete the state’s transition from institutional care to community services for Oklahomans with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Gov. Mary Fallin
“The vast majority of Oklahomans currently receiving assistance through DDSD are doing so in communities,” Fallin said. “Community care offers more personalized planning and service delivery than institutional care. Additionally, outcomes for individuals in community settings have proven to be better than outcomes produced by institutional care. Completing the transition to community based services allows the state to focus its resources on the highest quality service options available.”

Today, SORC has 123 residents and NORCE has 108. Both facilities are in danger of losing their certification by the Department of Health if millions of dollars in capital improvements and repairs are not made to the aging facilities.

Because NORCE and SORC each operate large campuses built for much higher occupancy, both facilities have vacant and condemned buildings. These buildings, as well as the rest of the campus structures, require brick and mortar upkeep costs paid for with DHS and DDSD public funds.

These expenses divert money from direct services to individuals. Additionally, they contribute to a shortage of funds that has lead to a backlog of almost 7,000 individuals, currently on a waiting list, hoping to receive DDSD community services.

“We want to make sure that state tax dollars are used to actually help people with developmental disabilities, whether it’s through vocational training and placement, medical services or high quality staff support,” said Fallin. “Shifting our resources to community-based services will ensure that the greatest number of Oklahomans can get the highest quality of direct support, rather than spending tax dollars on the upkeep of large vacant buildings at the state’s two aging institutions.”

In studying this issue, Commissioners and the Governor have also visited homes in communities of people who once lived at one of the facilities, and have heard from parents and guardians of the residents, the public employees’ association, providers of community services, and national experts on transitioning people from institutions into community homes.

“The staff at NORCE and SORC have done a great service for the state, and they should be commended for their hard work and dedication,” Fallin said. “As the state shifts towards community based services, it’s our hope that many of these men and women continue their work in community settings.”

Lane echoed the Governor’s comments.

“We appreciate the dedication of all the staff at NORCE and SORC,” said Lane. “They have provided quality services to the residents and we hope they will continue to serve the residents as long as they are needed. As individuals move into the community, we hope many of the staff members choose to continue serving these individuals in community homes.”

In the resolutions passed today, the Commission pledged the agency’s support to families of NORCE and SORC throughout the transition process into community homes. It also directed that families and residents will not incur additional expenses as a result of their move.

“Every commission member understands the families’ concerns and we know that any change in living arrangements can be hard,” said Lane. “We emphasized today that we are committed to helping individuals and families make a smooth transition and that no one will be moved until all the necessary supports are in place. As we have seen with previous transitions of former NORCE and SORC residents, the families acknowledge their loved ones are better off and they have a much higher quality of life.”

Gov. Fallin reassured residents and families that the transition process would be done very carefully to protect the health and safety of the residents.

“We understand that for the men and women currently residing in NORCE and SORC, as well as their families, any transition or change in service can be difficult,” Fallin said. “It’s important for those individuals to realize, however, that we are transitioning them to community services that are more versatile and can offer them more personalized and flexible options as well as a higher quality of life. The state is absolutely committed to helping them make this transition go as smoothly as possible. It should also be clear to everyone that no one will transition out of institutional care until they locate, with the help of DDSD, a high quality community services option to address their individual needs and preferences. No one’s services will be cut off.”

Additional concerns for the commission are the nearly 7,000 families caring for loved ones at home who are on a waiting list for DDSD community services.  The waiting list continues to grow because of a shortage of funding for services.

Many of these families who are waiting for services are caring for loved ones who have the same levels of need as the residents of NORCE and SORC, and these families are doing this on their own without any help from the state.” said Lane. “We could not, in good conscience, request an appropriation of $30 to $40 million state dollars to spend on capital improvements for buildings when funds are needed to help these families who are waiting and struggling. That is why we asked the Governor to create a new panel to develop a comprehensive plan for supporting people with developmental disabilities and their parents and families, and for addressing Oklahoma’s growing waiting list for home and community based services.”

DDSD will communicate with the parents and guardians of current residents shortly to provide information and begin the initial planning stages.

The DHS Human Resources staff and Office of Management and Enterprise Services Human Capital Management Division are ready and available to work with employees of NORCE and SORC.

Finally, the commission asks Governor Fallin to convene a panel of parents, professionals and state agency representatives to develop a comprehensive plan to support individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, as well as to address the state’s growing waiting list.

Fallin said she will take the commission’s advice and create a blue ribbon panel to develop future support plans for developmental disabilities services in Oklahoma.

“I accept the recommendation of the commission to create a new panel to explore comprehensive delivery of high quality services to Oklahomans with developmental disabilities,” Fallin said. “We expect recommendations of the panel to help us with this transition and to set the stage for further improvements in the future.”

This meeting also marked the first day on the job for new DHS Director Ed Lake, a former assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

“Although I am new to Oklahoma, I have already voiced my support for community services in lieu of institutional care for people with developmental disabilities,” said Lake. “I have been in contact with the Commission and the Governor’s office recently as they have worked up to making this decision and I am impressed with the amount of time they have all invested into this issue. I am reassured this was a well thought out and caring approach to a very difficult and emotional decision. I fully support the actions the Commission has taken and pledge my commitment to the families and residents for safe and smooth transitions.”

(Originally posted Nov. 1, 2012; updated Nov. 2)

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