OPEA Responds to Media Investigation

Last weekend, Oklahoma’s two largest newspapers, the Daily Oklahoman and Tulsa World printed a series of investigative reports into the private group home and institutions for the disabled. Reporters from the two newspapers spent six months reviewing Health Department survey reports from 2006-2009.

The articles reported serious violations, some resulting in the deaths of vulnerable clients. The violations included inappropriate medical care, mental and physical abuse of clients, irregularities with client finances, residents wandering off and multiple allegations of rape. Many of the homes had problems with mold, unsanitary food service, mice, insects and filthy bathrooms with leaking fixtures. In addition, reports indicated some of the homes had not completed background checks on their employees and had offenders with violent felony convictions working in close proximity to the disabled clients.

“OPEA has voiced concerns with care in the private facilities,” said OPEA Policy and Research Director Trish Frazier. “Our members have told us about clients who had returned to state-operated care after being removed from private facilities. The primary goal of the owners of these facilities is often making a profit, not caring for the clients.”

The report comes at a time when DHS is cutting positions and downsizing Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid and Southern Oklahoma Resource Center of Pauls Valley. Last December, 90 employees at the facilities accepted voluntary buy-outs. Director Howard Hendrick reported at the recent DHS Commission meeting that 70 workers at the facility were targeted for a reduction-in-force (RIF). One of the articles reported DHS indicated the state-operated facilities are not accepting patients because staffing has been reduced.

“These facilities are the safety net of the system,” Frazier said. “They need to be staffed and have adequate bed-space to take admissions from some of the abusive facilities.”

Over the years, the move for de-institutionalization has resulted in clients leaving the state-operated facilities for community settings.

“Some clients have done well in the community,” said Frazier. “However, ‘community’ doesn’t always mean a beautiful clean home with a white picket fence. Some clients are in a private intermediate care facility (ICFMR) that is larger than the state-operated institutions.”

“It’s tragic the state safety-net is being dismantled at a time when clients are suffering in substandard settings,” Frazier concluded. “DHS should stop the RIF and allow state employees to care for these vulnerable citizens.”

OPEA has been working with legislators from Enid and Paul’s Valley stop the RIF and the downsizing of state facilities.

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