Jaclyn Cosgrove/Oklahoma Watch
Fred Holland is a humble man, the proud father of a severely disabled child, and by his own account, a poor factory worker who doesn’t care to complain about his family’s plight.
He just has one simple message for state legislators on future budget cuts.
“Please consider my child and our family,” said Holland, 51, of Oklahoma City. “We’re already on the edge.”
Holland, like countless Oklahomans, is nervous about prospective cuts to state-funded programs dealing with adult day cares, nursing homes and home health services. Most of those institutions are already struggling financially, placing a heavier and heavier burden on private donors and nonprofit organizations.
Experts claim new budget cuts will trigger an avalanche of program cutbacks, institutional closures and unemployment statewide.
“In the last 10 years, we’ve lost 100 nursing homes across the state,” said Mary Brinkey, executive director of Leading Age Oklahoma. “If we see any further cuts, we could see another 50 nursing homes close in the next six months to a year—easily.”
Lawmakers approved a $6.5 billion budget last week for fiscal year 2012—a plan that will generally cut agencies anywhere from less than one percent to 9 percent beginning July 1. Legislators faced a $500 million budget shortfall, and the impact of their decision will be felt in the coming months.
Georgia Devening, Oklahoma Foundation For The Disabled, Inc.’s executive director, fears many adult services like hers are already teetering on financial disaster. The state Human Services Department’s Aging Services Division contracted with Oklahoma Foundation for $180,000 last July, but that money ran out in March.
The foundation has been operating at a loss ever since, while accumulating expenses like a $9,000 monthly gas bill to run seven buses daily throughout the Oklahoma City metro. The bus route extends as far as Yukon, and the buses log an average of 14,000 miles a month.
Donations from United Way of Central Oklahoma and proceeds from Bargain Thrift in Oklahoma City have helped the foundation barely stay afloat, Devening said.
Founded in 1960, the foundation is licensed to provide adult day health services for 106 developmentally disabled adults—some of whom represent the severest cases of disability in Oklahoma. The average age of the foundation’s clients is 40 years with the mental age range anywhere from three months to 13 years.
“We have a clientele that requires highly specialized care,” Devening said. “For instance, some clients require tube-feeding. You have to have staff certified in those areas to render such care. And while many of our clients have many different physical and mental limitations, we encourage each one of them to stimulate their body and mind. We offer them the kind of care many of their families haven’t been able to find anywhere else.”
Devening remembers the day Karen Holland – Fred’s wife – brought in their 27-year-old daughter, Amanda, four years ago. Amanda Holland suffers from cardiofaciocutaneous (or CFC Syndrome)—a rare genetic disorder that stunts growth, causes mild to severe mental retardation, and produces skin abnormalities and malformations of the head and face. Exposure to sun or settings without a controlled temperature can also be dangerous for someone with CFC Syndrome.
In fact, CFC Syndrome is so rare Amanda Holland is one of only 150 individuals worldwide who has been diagnosed with the disease.
“I remember when Karen first learned we would be able to accept Amanda,” Devening recalled. “She went out into the hall in tears, and called her husband. She said, ‘You’ll never believe this but we just found a place for our daughter.’
“That was a special day.”
For the Holland family, the issue of budget cuts can easily be reduced to people. Or the infectious smile of their daughter.
“Amanda is a very loving person,” Fred Holland noted. “She loves hugging people, and always seems happy. She just requires more care than others.”
Amanda Holland is a full-time fixture at the foundation where she freely shares her affections with those in her company. It’s not uncommon for her to bounce for joy at the sight of a newcomer and embrace that person with a loving grip.
A crinkled nose and smile is usually her way of saying hello Monday through Friday.
Amanda simply can’t be left alone, and that has long been the challenge for her working parents. While her father has held down a day job as a factory worker, her mother has worked evening shifts at a deli for a large retail chain. The opposite work shifts have allowed them to care for Amanda around the clock, but also placed a heavy strain on their relationship.
Moments together often alluded them. Once, the Hollands found an evening day care that allowed them to go out together. Weeks later they contacted the day care in hopes of enjoying a break for a few more hours.
“They told us they couldn’t care for Amanda,” Fred Holland recalled. “Suddenly, they didn’t have any room for her. That hurt. That’s our child.”
Yet the story is not unique for folks in their situation.
“Everyone needs a break from time to time,” Devening said. “That’s something we definitely provide families who are dealing with the stresses of caring for a disabled child.”
Now, thanks to the adult day care, Karen and Fred Holland are both able to work day shifts. With the state assistance of the adult day care, the couple fully understands the consequences of losing that care.
“We’re not asking for much,” Fred Holland said. “But how far can we go before breaking?”
Angela Brown contemplates such thoughts every time she thinks of her 19-year-old son, Eric Ogletree—a developmentally disabled teenager who eagerly awaits the adult day care bus each morning with his backpack in his clutches.
Brown is a divorced woman who works full time as a marketing director in Edmond. Her ex-husband also works full-time, lives nearby and shares equally in the care of their son.
Two years ago Ogletree entered the adult day care after graduating from Edmond Santa Fe High School. Due to the crumbling financial situation of aging services, Devening and her staff can no longer accept new clients.
“We felt fortunate to get Eric into the center right before they stopped taking new people,” said Brown, whose work allows her to bring her son to work once a week. “Eric is an outgoing kid who loves to interact with others, and if you took that away from him, that would be heart-breaking. He just loves being around people.”
Jack McCarty, a caretaker at the foundation, has personally witnessed Eric’s development.
“Eric is a good kid,” McCarty said. “He has his own way of communicating with others, and when he makes that connection, you can sense the excitement. Without the day care, I’m sure his life wouldn’t be as enjoyable because he wouldn’t be experiencing that social life.”
Brown understands likely fallout of her son being forced to leave the state-funded program due to budget cuts.
“The thought is scary,” Brown said. “If we didn’t have the adult day care, I’d be forced to quit my job so I could stay at home and take care of my son. I would no longer be able to go out and make a living for us.
“I know legislators have a job to do, and I’m sure it’s not an easy job. But I would just tell them my son also has a right to be happy.”