OKLAHOMA CITY – Senator Julia Kirt and Representative Cyndi Munson have introduced legislation intended "to improve transparency about who is currently being served by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) Developmental Disabilities Services (DDS) and who is still waiting," according to a legislator press release.
 
People currently on the DDS waitlist now face an average 13-year-long wait for at-home and community-based services. The Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) recently released a report analyzing the services and outlining gaps and concerns about progress made to serving eligible Oklahomans.
DHS disputed the findings, making it "even more important that accurate data be released to the public and policymakers consistently," according to the legislative release sent to The Oklahoma City Sentinel and other news organizations late last week.
 
The proposals from the two Oklahoma City Democrats would, if enacted, define expectations for improved communication with Oklahomans with disabilities and more informed legislative decisions. The bills would make information consistently available to both families and legislative leadership about who is being served through DDS, who is waiting for services, and what progress is being made to reduce the wait.
 
(For background on this issue, see this December 2021 essay posted on The Oklahoma City Sentinel webiste: https://www.city-sentinel.com/townnews/work/a-longer-look-at-developmental-disability-waiting-list-long-overdue/article_3e8c4b58-52bf-11ec-a3a4-e353f62473dd.html)
 
“As the Legislature, we have to make critical financial decisions to serve more people,” Kirt said. “These bills make sure that we have consistent, publicly available information to guide those decisions. This data will help families see when we make progress and when we stall. It will help families hold us accountable.”
 
Senate Bill 1293 would require DHS to publish a monthly update on their website about services. DHS has released much of this data in different formats over the years. However, the release from the Democratic legislators asserts "this level of detail will help the agency and community have shared expectations about what will be public and when."
 
The bill spells out the following categories of information: how many people are currently being served through home- and community-based waiver services, what services they are receiving, how many people have stopped receiving these services, why service has been terminated, how much the state is spending on these services, and the revenue sources for that spending.
Additionally, the bill requires an annual report to be published on the website and sent directly to legislative leaders that articulates strategic plan goals, progress toward those goals, and how much service providers have been paid as they work to reach those goals.
 
“The LOFT report on DDS validated concerns we’ve heard from caregivers across the state,” Sen. Kirt said.
“Families have expressed confusion and frustration, and releasing this data consistently is an opportunity for DHS to be clear and to bring families into the process so they better understand what strategies the state is implementing and why.”
 
Munson said the LOFT report highlighted discrepancies in data and a lack of transparency.
 
“I remain concerned we still do not have answers to many central questions about delays in services,” she said.
“I will always seek open communication between the Department of Human Services and the individuals and families waiting for services—a key component to truly understanding the experience and needs of families in the process to obtain services.”
 
Kirt and Munson believe the proposed legislation would "also improve transparency during the wait for services."
S.B. 1292 would require that monthly data to be published during any assessment of people on the DDS waitlist. The monthly report would include the total number of people waiting, new applications, closed cases, and demographic information. That info would then be connected to a resource map to better understand what services exist in our communities, what service gaps need to be filled, and where those gaps are.
A private vendor already has been contracted to provide these services and data. This bill would make that information public as it is gathered, increasing the public's understanding of the process, the pair of legislators say.
 
“Every member of the Oklahoma Legislature has a constituent waiting for services, so it is vital that those constituents and we, their representatives, receive consistent, accurate data reflecting the work being done to connect services to Oklahomans,” Munson said.
 
“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are valued citizens of our state,” Kirt said.
“Their wellbeing impacts our state’s wellbeing, and our communication and systems should reflect that by making sure people know what services are available to them and where they stand in line.”
 
Awareness of the needs of individuals and families facing the challenges of development disabilities and other special care challenges have been a focus of attention for members of the Legislature for many years. (https://www.city-sentinel.com/news/developmental-disability-awareness-day-held-at-state-capitol/article_72bd1e08-381f-5826-93bc-3e5c79772183.html)
 
Some remediation of the "waiting list" issue has taken place in the past few years, but advocates for the impacted families remain frustrated at the long wait for delivery of support services.
 
NOTE: Pat McGuigan of The Oklahoma City Sentinel contributed to this report. Ellyn Hefner, a regular columnist for the newspaper in print and online, writes regularly on special care policy, including the waiting list. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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