Vote to Close Centers for Disabled in Okla. Draws Fire

Article excerpt

A vote by the Department of Human Services commission to close two treatment facilities for adults with developmental disabilities is drawing fire from an Enid-area state senator and the state's public employees' association.

Last week, the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services, which oversees the DHS, voted to close the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid and the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley.

The vote could displace 231 special needs residents and dozens of employees, said Sterling Zearley, Oklahoma Public Employees Association executive director.

"OPEA is disappointed that the commission is taking action on an issue of such importance a few days before this board might be voted out of existence via State Question 765," Zearley said. "After all that has transpired in this and other issues, we were under the impression that the culture had changed to that of inclusion and transparency."

Zearley said the vote to close both facilities was unexpected.

As recently as June, the plan was to close only the Pauls Valley center, with the transfer of most of those residents to Enid. This last-minute change has kept everyone from being able to respond to the commission in a proper manner, he said.

Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, agreed. In a media statement, Anderson criticized the commission and its chairman, former Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane.

Anderson said Lane was responsible for placing a vote on the Nov. 1 commission agenda to close both the Pauls Valley and Enid centers.

"For months now, the governor has intervened and directed that the commission not vote on a previously presented plan to consolidate the facilities into one," Anderson said. "Now, with no warning, the governor has clearly given the direction that a vote take place on a new plan that would close both facilities. Clearly the governor wants the commission to take the blame for the vote so she can avoid taking responsibility for this decision."

Senate leaders and Republican Gov. Mary Fallin praised the decision.

State Sen. Brian Bingman, Senate pro tempore and R-Sapulpa, said the commission's vote to close the centers would ensure that Oklahomans living with disabilities receive the highest quality of support, while refusing to let dollars go to the brick-and-mortar maintenance of aging, vacant facilities when those same dollars should go to the direct care of the people Oklahoma serves. …