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April 28, 2013

State paid developmental disabilities waiting list growing longer

NORMAN — The waiting list for Oklahomans seeking state-paid care for developmental disabilities has jumped to more than 7,000, and some families have been on that list for nearly a decade.

The number of people on the list has risen by 24 percent since 2010, when Oklahoma had the third largest waiting list for such services in the nation, according to a University of Minnesota study. Just under half the applicants are children — most from low-income families.

State officials say the list has expanded because of insufficient state and federal funds to provide additional services. That means more parents and guardians must provide care for the intellectually and developmentally

disabled with little or no help. The disabled include those with autism, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, brain injuries, severe intellectual disabilities and other conditions.

In the meantime, Oklahoma is moving to close its only two large institutions that offer long-term care for the developmentally disabled. Many of those centers’ roughly 400 residents will shift to community homes or their own families’ homes. The residents won’t be placed on the waiting list.

Gov. Mary Fallin has said she wants to improve services for the developmentally disabled, and in March appointed a panel to develop a comprehensive plan that would include addressing the waiting list. The panel’s recommendations are expected next year.

Until more is done, a frustratingly long waiting list will remain.

Erin Taylor is among those watching the list. Taped to her office door at the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council, a state agency that helps coordinate services, is a picture of her 10-year-old son Henry Weathers.

Just above it is a note with the number 6,757 — the waiting-list total when she posted the number last year.

Henry is about No. 4,900 on the list.

A friendly boy who loves the Muppets and hopes to work some day as a voice actor in animated movies, Henry was born with a heart condition. He had several surgeries before age 5 and later a heart transplant.

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