OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Commission for Human Services voted Thursday to close two state facilities for Oklahoma's most severely developmentally disabled residents in a move that drew fierce criticism from some lawmakers and parents of the more than 200 residents who live at the centers.
The nine-member commission voted 6-3 to shut down the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley by April 2014, and the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center at Enid by August 2015. The centers' 231 residents will be transitioned to community-based homes.
"This commission has invested a tremendous amount of time studying this issue," said Chairman Wes Lane, who proposed the resolution to close the centers. "Every commissioner has asked himself or herself: 'What would I do if this was my loved one.' Each of us have agonized over what the right decision is."
Lane said the estimated $30 million price tag for necessary repairs at the two facilities also was a factor.
"Can we in good conscience put that much money into buildings when there are nearly 7,000 families caring for loved ones with disabilities at home who are waiting for community services?" Lane asked. "Or do we transition the residents out of the resource centers into homes in communities where they can live like a majority of Oklahomans with the same developmental disabilities."
The commission refused to hear public comments from the standing-room-only crowd, and Lane shut down a legislator who attempted to address the panel.
"Chairman, you're making a mockery of this entire process," state Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, told Lane.
The decision over what to do with the two facilities has proved a thorny one for lawmakers, who earlier this year rejected a proposal to shutter the Pauls Valley facility and move those residents to the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center.
Several parents of children at the facilities expressed outrage that the commission decided to close the two facilities.
"It's a shock. I think it's wrong," said Sheila Day, of Oklahoma City, explaining that her 21-year-old son, Justin, has lived at the Pauls Valley center for 12 years.
"It will be very traumatic for him. I hope they can live with their decision," she said.
Gov. Mary Fallin, who has appointed a majority of the nine-member panel, clearly favored the move.
"Shifting our resources to community-based services will ensure that the greatest number of Oklahomans can get the highest quality of direct support, rather than spending tax dollars on the upkeep of large vacant buildings at the state's two aging institutions," Fallin said in a statement.
Several lawmakers, however, were clearly disappointed with the board's decision.
"It is very clear from the stories we have heard from parents and other people who serve as guardians for developmentally disabled individuals, that many residents will be traumatized and negatively impacted in other ways by the closure of these two centers," said Rep. John Enns, R-Enid.
"Ideally, we would have liked to see both stay open. At the very least though, we thought the DHS commission would keep the Enid center. They took the time to seek input and yet they ignored that input completely."
The meeting also was the first for the Department of Human Services' newly appointed director Ed Lake, who took over the 7,000-employee state agency effective Thursday. Oklahoma Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, who had been serving as interim director, was reappointed Thursday to his previous position as director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy