By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
The fight to save Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid and Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley continues with the hope of pending legislation.
Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake, who recently appeared in Enid to meet with parents and guardians, said the decision was made before he became director last fall.
“That decision was made by the governor,” Lake said, referring to Gov. Mary Fallin.
However, two bills by Sen. Susan Paddack, D-Ada, aim to continue the services of the two facilities and keep residents within 60 miles of them.
Senate Bill 303 by Paddack calls for saving at least 50 beds open at both NORCE and SORC and for services to continue to be provided there. Other individuals who live in community-based settings can receive language, medical, occupational and physical therapy there.
The proposed legislation would make the facilities true resource centers. The bills say those living in group homes may continue to use the facilities for services.
State Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, said he is “definitely” in support of keeping NORCE running. Anderson said he is concerned by a need to continue to maintain two facilities with just 50 beds each. It would be easier to maintain one facility in Enid, but some families residing in the southern part of the state may have difficulty traveling to Enid for services.
“It is certainly a proposal we ought to consider,” Anderson said of the legislation.
Anderson said all of the residents at NORCE are severely disabled and will find it hard to find a place to live if the facility is closed. He said the number of beds proposed in Paddack’s legislation meets the required safety guidelines.
SB 304 states that if a resident is moved from either facility, they must be placed within a 60-mile radius of the parent or guardian of the individual. It is tied to SB 303, Paddack said.
Anderson said both appear to be reasonable bills. He is very supportive of Paddack in the effort to get her bills heard.
“I will assist any way I can to make sure there is a hearing on them,” Anderson said.
Anderson has been outspoken about his opposition to the closing. During the Nov. 1, 2012, meeting of the DHS Commission, the decision was made to shut down SORC by April 2014 and NORCE by August 2015 and place residents in community-based care.
Chairman Wes Lane did not allow Anderson to speak. Lane told Anderson to leave the room, and threatened to have him escorted from the meeting.
Email obtained through an open-records request by the Enid News & Eagle shows that Denise Northrup, Gov. Fallin’s chief of staff, forwarded a copy of the Oct. 31, 2012, Senate press release titled “Anderson: Governor directs DHS Commission to throw disabled out on street” to Lane.
In the press release, Anderson described how Fallin continued to postpone a decision by the DHS Commission, then scheduled a vote for Nov. 1.
“I assume you saw this,” Northrup wrote to DHS Commission Chairman Lane on Nov. 1.
Responding to Northrup’s forwarding of the Anderson release on the morning of Nov. 1, Lane wrote: “Indeed ... proof that the failure to spank a child can at times result in future problems as an adult.” Lane’s email was sent Nov. 1, before the afternoon vote.
Five days later, the commission was dissolved in a state question.
See PDF of Lane's email and Anderson's release on the bill HERE.
When Anderson learned of the email obtained by the News & Eagle, the senator responded that the comment reflects more on Lane’s character than his.
“I make no apologies for fighting for my district, the residents of NORCE and their families to the utmost of my ability,” Anderson said. “What I said turned out to be accurate, because Ed Lake, DHS (director), came to Enid and admitted it to 100 witnesses.”
When asked about his email regarding Anderson, a fellow Republican, Lane characterized the Enid senator’s comments as “immature” and offensive, claiming Anderson’s frightening “fear-mongering” was a disservice to citizens.
Lane, former Oklahoma County district attorney, noted that he was speaking as a conservative Republican himself.
“It’s reminiscent of what I’ve seen Democrats do on the national stage,” said Lane, referring to ads depicting Paul Ryan throwing an elderly, wheelchair-bound woman off a cliff.
“More of that came out of my profound disappointment at the lack of maturity, and I’m seeing that coming out of different folks at the Legislature. I don’t know Anderson from Adam, but it didn’t make any difference. Why is he scaring people like this?”
Lane said the easy choice would have been to keep NORCE open, but the harder decision was the right one.
“The most loving thing we could do for people with developmental disabilities and all that was to give them the opportunity to live out in the community, that came from both the literature and from parents who had gone through that,” Lane said.
Lane joked he would need a full tank of gas the next time he travels to Enid.
Failure to communicate
Paddack told the News & Eagle SB 303 will beef up occupational and medical facilities at NORCE and SORC.
“The whole idea, now that the commission — before they were gotten rid of — voted to close those facilities. Our hope is that occupational opportunities they provide at those facilities, and the medical treatment, is still important,” Paddack said.
As the state moves the residents into the community, Paddack wants NORCE and SORC to be hubs of occupational, medical and recreational services. As the residents transition into group homes, they still need those opportunities and a safety net. Paddack said she is “troubled” about the way the transitions are being handled.
“We were assured before the commission took the vote that if they voted to close it, a transition would be done taking into consideration their best interests,” Paddack said. “I always felt those residents deserve consideration.”
Paddack said the parents and guardians are fearful due to lack of communication. The Legislature did not approve the DHS plan, and now there is no commission to provide oversight.
“Other than the agency, where are the checks and balances? ... The commission decided to close NORCE and SORC, and now they are doing the transitioning,” Paddack said.
She said the decision is very unfortunate for the residents of those facilities. The Legislature still has not completely resolved the plan.
SB 304 is a transition item. Another fear of parents and guardians is they will be moving from Pauls Valley to places far away, such as Tulsa, and they won’t be able to see their loved ones as often. The bill says they cannot move the residents more than 60 miles from their home or current facility.
“For five years I was told there is a strategic plan and they would build some new facilities. The group homes do not exist. SORC and NORCE have some severely challenged individuals. They are going to have to have a level of care appropriate for the client. Moving them into group homes is not enough,” Paddack said.
Paddack claimed an insufficient number of group homes to house the residents of SORC and NORCE. The DHS approved a plan that would move them out at a rate of 10 per month, but she said there is no place for them to go.
“There is no governmental body overseeing. Who’s minding the store, who is making sure they have service in place for the residents?” Paddack said.
Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, House Speaker Pro-Tem, is unfamiliar with Paddack’s bills, but he will consider them.
Jackson himself filed a bill Thursday dealing with NORCE and SORC. The shell bill has no details yet, but Jackson said he is working out the best way to address the issue. The bill deals with the Department of Human Services.
State Rep. Lisa Billy, R- Purcell, also has filed legislation addressing the situation, along with a number of others. SORC is in Billy’s House district.
Go to http://enidnews.com to read Anderson’s press release and Lane’s email.