OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Human Services Commission voted today 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.
“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.”
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 homes. Long-term studies on the Hissom residents show they lead healthier, more active lives. Over the past 10 years, DDSD has successfully transitioned many residents of NORCE and SORC into community homes, typically closer to their families.
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. In the months prior to this meeting, commission members and Governor Mary Fallin visited NORCE and SORC, meeting with staff and residents while evaluating the facilities.
“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 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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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