Pauls Valley Democrat
Pauls Valley, Oklahoma — With time ticking away until a March 1 deadline to determine the fate of the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center not doing anything to ease nerves, a lot of hope is riding on an alternative plan to save the facility in Pauls Valley.
Presented at the Jan. 24 Oklahoma Commission for Human Services meeting, a joint plan between the Parent Guardian Association and the Oklahoma Public Employee Association for both SORC and NORC in Enid hope to not only delay plans to greatly reduce client population, but promote options to encourage greater use.
Individuals like Trish Frazier, OPEA policy director, contend that funding is not as much an issue as indicated by the Developmental Disabilities Services Division of DHS report.
She also says the pro-SORC plan offers a way to phase in a more efficient living arrangement through available federal and state money.
“This is an introduction for people to see what the possibilities are rather than shutter and walk away,” said Frazier, who noted how some faith was restored when it was announced two commissioners would explore this plan further before sending anything to legislators.
“This is to show the facility model is still needed.”
The financial side of the plan, which includes a proposal to still use, but gradually phase out use of all of the current living structures, would be paid for by a 20-year bond subject to approval by the appropriation committee as a part of their long term capitol improvement budget, said Frazier.
Though the rough amount is suggested at $20 million before interest, it calls for building two eight-bed housing units a year over five total with half or more being paid back a little each year through Medicaid and the rest through state tax dollars.
However, part of the plan would also allow for this requested bond amount to be reduced by raising some of the money locally through selling excess land, private donations and fundraising.
She added how the amount is a drop in the hat when one considers that around $140 million is being set aside to improve just the capitol building/grounds itself and it should be no problem to spend a fraction of that to guarantee care for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.
Making key parts of the plan possible is State Sen. Susan Paddack, State Rep. Lisa J. Billy and State Rep. Mike Jackson of Enid who have both introduced legislation through SB 1129, SB 1136, HB 2850 and HB 2363.
With Paddack’s SB 1129 and Jackson’s HB 2850, the goal is to delay the original date for the deadline of vote on a plan by DHS from March 2012 to March 1, of 2013 to give more time for options to be explored with the clients and their families in mind, said Frazier.
This delay would then open the process up to fix an ongoing safety code problem through Paddack’s SB 1136 and install fire suppression sprinklers in the remaining structures lacking them by this November so the clients can stay where they are for the short term.
“Our plan is not to move, our plan is for making improvements,” Ken Talley, president of the PGA, added when describing the importance of the plan.
“The opportunity to utilize that kind of care is being sabotaged,” he said.
Billy’s suggestions through HB 2363 would, pending approval, allow at both SORC and NORC the construction of two housing units beginning this November and do so per year through 2017.
It would also authorize the construction of a 20-bed medical care unit for the clients with the most severe needs at both former state schools.
The next step now is more of the waiting game, though if commissioners decide to send the plan submitted by DHS as is, much of the SORC campus save one hospital unit for 15 residents would then be closed by August 2013. The four pieces of legislation will most likely be voted on in February, when the next session starts.
“It is still very much in need for the type of client that is there now,” said Talley. “They can’t have a lot of uncertainty now.”
Parents, employees and the public are also invited to attend a budget information session held at the campus in the gymnasium at 2:45 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, though the meeting will be more a stop for the appropriation’s committee than discussion about SORC. Paddack, Billy, the PGA and OPEA are expected to attend.