Guest commentary: It’s time to take bold action and end the wait list in Oklahoma

By Samantha Galloway - Chief of Staff and Operations, Oklahoma Human Services

Today, Oklahoma has nearly 6,000 people with developmental disabilities on a 13-year waiting list for in-home supports and community-based employment supports. The ability for each of them to lead a full and meaningful life is limited only by their need for support. Fewer than 40 years ago, these same individuals were only able to receive needed supports by leaving their homes to live in a state-run institution such as Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid, Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley, or lest we forget, Hissom Memorial Center in Sand Springs.  

Fortunately, that is no longer the case and it is now time to realize the next step in the delivery of services. Oklahoma Human Services (OKDHS) has set a bold plan into action to eliminate the wait for people with developmental disabilities and their families. A foundational piece is a contract awarded to Liberty Healthcare for a person-centered assessment of every single individual on the waiting list and for every person who applies for services going forward. This assessment is groundbreaking, as it is the first time the waiting list has been assessed in full. The data collected will allow Liberty to help people with navigation and case management that will connect them to services for which they are immediately eligible while they wait for more robust services provided through in-home supports and community-based employment supports provided by a Medicaid waiver. Of equal importance, the data will also provide OKDHS validated cost data to allow appropriators confidence in an investment toward elimination of the long-standing waiting list.

What this plan does not include is any attempt to lengthen the wait for Oklahoma families, any intent to bait and switch people, or to do anything other than serve Oklahomans.

OKDHS was supportive of a five-year residency restriction to initiate an application for Waiver services. It only makes sense for us to provide those services to Oklahomans who have lived in our state and have been waiting for services first. We will continue to explore options to make sure Oklahomans are first in line. It is their right.

In addition to the assessment and navigation contract with Liberty, a robust case management system contract has been awarded to Therap. This is a modern system that will house all assessment and service data for those on the wait list. Next in development is a service modernization RFP. The service array that exists today has been in place for several decades. OKDHS wants to receive expert consultation on best and promising services nationally, as well as lean into self-advocates and families to create services that may not exist anywhere yet.

The sole intent of OKDHS in this gigantic system modernization is to ensure that those we serve have a good life. It is not for government to decide what constitutes that for people, but to empower them to inform and ultimately validate that we have met their mark. Never in my 18-year career have we enjoyed more support than we do today. We remain committed and appreciate the unwavering support from Governor Stitt, Pro Tempore Treat, and Speaker McCall and the legislature. It has always been our goal to see the waiting list for waiver services for individuals living with developmental and intellectual disabilities eliminated. We have a duty of care to them and will not waiver in our responsibility to provide them with the services they need to thrive.

*Class action litigation of Homeward Bound brought against the State of Oklahoma and Hissom Memorial Center spurred the development of a residential and employment program in Oklahoma in the 1980s. This litigation resulted in a long-standing Consent Decree known as Homeward Bound that lasted until 2007. During that time, Oklahoma developed what was a nationally-recognized community program that many other states used as inspiration in development of their own community service systems.