Throughout the past several years that have led up to a decision to close both the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center and its sister site NORC in Enid, there have been more than a few comparisons for those who have seen what care is like be it institution or community based.
It is a far rarer point of view that allows one to see in-depth on both sides of the divide; a distinction Wynnewood resident Janice Nevins can claim after around 34 years working on multiple levels with those under the wing of the Developmental Disability Services Division of the Department of Human Services.
These days spending her retirement as a volunteer guardian for three clients whose services are provided in places like a home here in Pauls Valley, she’s had a chance to see a little bit of everything.
“All of my work experience has been with DDSD,” said Nevins, who was even employed years ago at Pauls Valley’s former state school and can relate to what transition out of the institution is like.
It was early in Nevins’ career where she started out as a teacher’s aid at Hilltop School where she first started working at SORC and got her early experiences as to the type of environment clients experienced on a day-to-day basis.
While things improved years after she also worked in direct care there and as a case manager, she later learned to love community care because of the freedom for clients.
“It’s just the way it is, it’s not good or bad,” said Nevins, who worked at SORC until about 1998 when she left to care for her husband, which was then followed by working for DDSD after that.
“I didn’t leave SORC in a bad mood… It served its purpose and it was a pleasant experience.”
Nevins added how while she has no ill feelings toward institution-based care, it was the way a high volume of clients had to stick to a strict schedule, no matter what they did, resulting in them having to be herded from one place to another that convinced her there had to be better options for a majority of the of said residents.
She understands that it is a whole different mentality in the community since residents don’t have to stick to a specific shift because of the limits of state employees, but also wants to reassure how people can thrive if guardians or parents are diligent in keeping agencies accountable.
“Anytime that you have to deal with large groups of people, whether that’s a nursing home or a corrections facility, you have to have these rules… so everything is done in a very regimented way, but it’s not because they want it to be that way,” said Nevins. “It’s a must because of the schedules that have to be kept in order to get everything done.”
However, Nevins said what a lot of people who are concerned with transition don’t understand is that a big part of the motivating factor for DHS comes from lawsuits that resulted from when Hissom closed near Tulsa around 20 years ago. Those lawsuits were finally settled in 2009 on the condition that DHS would transition about 30 clients to community settings a year starting then and so far they haven’t been able to hold up that end of the bargain.
Nevins noted that if DDSD had been able to keep their word the institutions would effectively not be operating by now and delays came when DHS could not keep channels of communications open with those caring for clients, creating a brick wall.
She wanted to make it clear that no part of it was mean spirited, simply a deal with the courts, and if transition isn’t done, the lawsuits will start back up again.
“We have to get people out of those large institutions, we gave our word we would… and see we haven’t done them at all and so time is ticking. The end is here and that’s why the commission said ‘Close them down.’” said Nevins.
“I hope that the community embraces the transitions and I know that they will, but it takes a village to take care of those that are vulnerable and that’s what we do.”
Editor’s note: More on Nevins’ experiences, along with comments from other guardians and families, will come in a future edition of the PV Democrat.