By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
State-administered services at Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid will end Aug. 31, 2015, according to a Department of Human Services plan.
The NORCE closing plan starts with the 37 residents of Chickasaw (Rose) Building. The closing process started Jan. 1. There are 12 residents in Cherokee Circle facility and five in Alpha facility who also will begin the transition, a report from DHS stated. The report was posted online.
Alpha facility will be used by Robert M. Greer Center to replace a building with no fire sprinkler system, which Greer Center now occupies. Greer Center operates on the NORCE campus under a contract with Liberty Health Care.
Oklahoma Commission for Human Services voted in December to close NORCE and Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley. The facilities provide care and a place to live for developmentally disabled clients. SORC is scheduled to close in 2014.
Clients leaving the facilities will go either into community-based housing, or into another facility based on the decision of their parents or guardians.
NORCE buildings include Cherokee Hospital, Delaware Group Home, Alpha, Beta, Omega House, Cherokee Circle and Chickasaw (Rose).
Moving of other residents in the remaining residences of NORCE will be done between July 30, 2014, and Aug. 31, 2015. The transition process will be done by DHS’ Developmental Disabilities Services Division.
The plan will be reviewed on a quarterly basis. In November and December, DDSD area office staff members were asked to contact each individual on campus and review that person’s record.
The report stated DDSD will give priority to clients residing in buildings that will not meet fire codes this year. Potential roommates will be identified from those currently living together. Priority moves will be given to volunteers who desire to live together in a community setting. DHS said three to four community-based residences need to open monthly. Individuals at SORC who must move because their building is closed — but do not want community placement — may temporarily move to NORCE.
The report said up to 20 people will be selected from SORC depending on their admission dates. Compatibility of residents will be considered in determining how residents’ needs are met. Staff members from the resource centers who know an individual well also will be included in the planning process, the report said.
Along with the plan for moving residents, DHS has a plan for transferring employees to other facilities within the system. However, some employees have spouses who work in the Enid area and may not leave, according to NORCE sources.
NORCE Director Sally Randall said she is waiting to see what DHS will do. Her husband works for the city of Enid, she said. She plans to continue her current job until the facility is closed.
“I’m just here until they tell me to turn the lights off,” Randall said.
Medical and dental care arrangements will be made in community facilities prior to the movement of an individual. A reduction in the number of physicians is planned along with the reduction in facility population, the report said.
Marcellus Bell, a member of the NORCE Parent and Guardian Association, said he has seen the plan and has serious concerns about it. He does not think DHS can provide the same level of care in community-based settings.
“They can’t even care for foster kids. They are dying. The same thing will happen with our loved ones and it will be too late,” Bell said.
Bell wants Gov. Mary Fallin to meet with a group of parents and guardians to discuss privatizing NORCE, he said. Bell wants Fallin to explain how DHS will save money through closing NORCE and SORC.
“The home-based lobby are the ones who finally pushed the decision. If our loved ones are used to a routine and the state people working with them, what’s that change going to do?” Bell said. “Those residents don’t know what change is. If they begin acting out because of the unusual, the employees will give them stronger psychotropic medication to quiet them down. That can’t be good for them.”
Bell’s brother has been at NORCE for 47 years. Bell said a committee, the governor and DHS do not know what’s best for his brother.
“I’m calling on Mary Fallin to meet with a panel of parent-guardians and consider the option (of privatizing), or explain the reason to close and how they will save money,” Bell said.
The cost to maintain a resident is $500 per day, without special equipment, and without the cost of those who need 24-hour attention and people to turn them every hour, he said. The community- based plan is to put three people to a house, making the cost $1,500 per house, he said. Taking all the residents currently residing in NORCE and SORC, that amount would be more than $2 million a year, he said, which does not include the cost of providing something for them to do.
“What will they do when they get in the community? Where will they go? Is there anything? What type of people will we have watching to take care of them?” Bell said.
Trish Frazier, policy director for Oklahoma Public Employees Association, has been working on the issue for 15 years. As far as Enid is concerned, there are few places where direct-care employees can work, she said. In the southern part of the state, there are some facilities that could employ them, she said. Frazier doubts the transition schedule will be kept because she thinks it is years away.
“How many of the clients have been transitioned? The transition will be a challenge to find providers and a workforce, especially with the oilfield competing,” she said.
DDSD personnel told Frazier in a meeting they were concerned DDSD could not get everyone transitioned in the amount of time they need. There are people who disagree with the closings, and bills have been introduced in the state Legislature that may change the outcome, she said.
If both of the facilities are closed, the state will lose the safety net it needs for people with disabilities, Frazier said. If the provider goes out of business — if one of the residents cannot live there — there must be some place for them to go.
NORCE and SORC care for hundreds of people and the ones who remain in those facilities will not be easy to place, Frazier said. The people remaining in those facilities are the ones left with no place to go. The residents who can successfully live in a community facility already have left, she said.
“Those remaining have serious disabilities, medical disabilities, and it’s harder to place them,” Frazier said.
State Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, discussed that issue with her, she said.
“Very few states have closed all their facilities because they need that safety net,” she said.
Frazier wants employees at NORCE and SORC to understand it is not over, she said.
“One thing that concerns me is these people have invested their lives in state service,” she said. “Many have taken lower pay for benefits and a state retirement.”
She fears if those people go to another agency, the state will lose that expertise of caring for the disabled. Even if they take the same amount of money or even a little more, and lose those benefits and retirement, they will be hurt.
“I don’t want the state to lose that expertise,” Frazier said.ж