By Lindsey Temple
New Star Reporter
Word traveled fast last Friday, July 20, when Governor Mary Fallin asked the Oklahoma Commission of Human Services to delay voting on an agenda item that would close the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center (SORC), sending the approximately 120 mentally disabled clients into community based care facilities.
On Tuesday, June 12, at a monthly Oklahoma Commission for Human Services (OCHS) meeting in Oklahoma City, Michael Peck, an Enid optometrist and chairman of the OCHS Property Committee proposed a plan to close Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley and consolidate services at Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid or distribute clients throughout the state community based providers.
“Governor Fallin requested a delayed vote to allow them and her to study the issue in greater detail,” said Alex Weintz, the governor’s spokesman.
Wes Lane, chairman of the OCHS, removed the agenda item from the OCHS monthly meeting, in hopes that the Governor would be able to help them sort out this problem.
This was hopeful news for SORC advocates, including the SORC Parent Guardian Association, as the action delayed a possible dooming fate for the institution.
However, not everyone was as pleased with the delay.
Richard Devaughn, a retired Enid dentist and OCHS member, fears the delay is only making the inevitable worse.
“They’re going to kick this can around until both facilities will be closed and they won’t have a choice,” Devaughn said about families with loved ones at SORC.
“I think it’s the typical political game of kicking the can down the road,” he said Friday. “The governor has her own plans. She’s going to make the decision.”
“We needed to come to a vote,” he said. “It was the right thing to do.”
On Tuesday morning at a very crowded monthly OCHS meeting, supporters of both SORC and NORCE attended the meeting, some wearing buttons, showing their support.
Also in attendance were those opposed to keeping both institutions open.
Although, no vote was planned to be taken, advocates from all sides weighed in and were given 10 minutes to address the commission, in addition to written reports and statements that they had already submitted.
Among those that addressed the commission were SORC PGA President Ken Tally; SORCE PGA Treasurer Frank Appl; State Representative Lisa Billy; Judith Goodwin, Executive Director, Oklahoma Community Based Providers; Della Wilson, President of the Pauls Valley Chamber of Commerce; James Frizell, Pauls Valley City Manager and Jim Nicholson, Developmental Disabilities Services Division Director.
Tally and Apple urged the commission to not only keep SORC open but also move ahead in providing SORC with necessary funding the institution needs to continue to give optimal care.
Representative Billy asked the Commission for a long term plan that includes parents and guardians in all decision making, a plan that would hopefully lay to rest the limbo of both institutions.
“All of us here want what’s best for the clients of SORC and NORCE. Let’s implement a plan to prevent worry for clients and employees of these institutions and let’s take care of the citizens of Oklahoma,” said Billy.
Pauls Valley, City Manager, James Frizell and Pauls Valley Chamber of Commerce, president, Della Wilson, both addressed the commission, speaking of the economic impact SORC has on not only Pauls Valley but also southern Oklahoma.
Speaking on behalf of the Oklahoma Community Based Providers (OCP), was Judy Goodwin, Executive Director of OCP.
Goodwin attempted to dispel any misinformation about community services and encouraged families and guardians to tour community based care facilities.
“Community care can match and exceed institutional services,” said Goodwin.
Executive Director for the Oklahoma Public Employee Association, Sterling Zearley, spoke for those employed at SORC and NORCE.
“These employees have been talked at, they haven’t been talked to,” said Zearley.
Zearley urged the commission to form a task panel and visit the institutions, talk to the people employed there and take form them to form decisions.
The last individual to address the commission was Jim Nicholson, Division Director of Developmental Disabilities Services.
Nicholson sited the ICF/MR program, put into effect in 1971 to assist failing mental health facilities.
Nicholson reminded the crowd and commission that the program was not meant to be long lasting but an urgent much needed fix for our nations developmentally disabled
“It is my opinion that we mandate states to get out of the institution business. We are obligated and our federal partners insist that we provide quality lives for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities,” said Nicholson.
Nicholson asked the Commission to consider closing both SORC and NORCE in hopes of giving the clients a better quality of life in community based care settings.
In a Pauls Valley City Council Meeting Tuesday evening, the Council voted unanimously to continue to support SORC and SORC PGA.
“We need to pursue this aggressively,” said council member, Hal Blevins.
“We will continue to do what we have been doing for the last 10 years,” said Pauls Valley Mayor, Tim Gamble.