RoseAnn Duplan, Wanda Felty, and Erin Taylor are advocates for families on the DDS (Developmental Disabilities Services) Waiting List.
As parents of adult children with developmental disabilities, we’ve earned seven decades of experience. We’re familiar with programs and supports other families rarely need: TEFRA, assistive technology, and Medicaid waivers, to name just a few. As family advocates, we’ve served on numerous oversight bodies evaluating state policies that serve family members like ours. Boards and commissions afford consumers of agency services some decision-making influence.
Yet, as early as this week, legislators are poised to hear a special session bill, HB 1027XX, that would eliminate boards and commissions at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OKHCA), Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuses Services (ODMHSAS), and several other agencies. Current boards and commissions would devolve to agency advisory committees with no formal authority. HB 1027 would grant the Governor sole authority to appoint or terminate agency leadership at OKHCA, ODMHSAS, and a half dozen more agencies. This is one of the proposals being promoted by Step Up Oklahoma.
We need only recall the aftermath of the disbanded Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) Commission, which included consumer members, as fair warning. The Commission was to be replaced with four DHS Citizen Advisory Panels, one of which focused on disability issues. Committed citizen panel members developed achievable recommendations and DHS leadership endorsed most of these. Yet, virtually none of these changes were implemented and panels were dissolved within a matter of a few years. While lack of funding was the cited reason, not being answerable to Oklahomans became the habit.
We want agency leadership that is accountable to the people of Oklahoma, not solely operatives of the Governor. This is regardless of who our current and future governors are. Certain issues, like the DDS (Developmental Disabilities Services) Waiting List, which has grown to over 7,600 families, need advocates at the table as genuine experts on the difficult choices being made. Our votes stand for the individual, their family and providers.
Oklahoma history is that of a populist state — limiting centralized authority because we knew best how to govern ourselves. So when did health and human services become political fodder? When did our government stop trusting Oklahoma families?
We must also ask why the State Legislature would concede such agency control to the executive branch. We deserve a reasonable answer as to why such a bill is running in the special session, which was to concern itself solely with raising revenue.
Every day, people with disabilities and their families must live with the repercussions of our state’s choices. The minutia of agency policy becomes of great concern once it manifests in our daily lives. We do not expect our leaders to have the same understanding of what’s needed to support persons with significant intellectual, physical, behavioral, or medical care needs. We do expect them to rely on us. Eliminating these state boards and commissions is a statement that our lawmakers are willing to dismiss the experiences of those they govern.
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