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Oklahoma Rehabilitation Council Minutes

February 15, 2007


Members Present:

B.J. Nevels,  Marilyn Burr,  Kathleen Kennedy, Doug MacMillan, Kim Nickerson, Milissa Gofourth, Jon Ringlero, DeLorna Strong, Pat Casey, Sabrina Ware, Sue Williams, Tim Parrish, Glenda Farnum, Director Linda Parker

Members Absent:

Jack Roper, Hugh McCrabb, Cathy Bates, Randy Buettner, Alisa Robertson

Others Present:

Jane Nelson, DRS VS Administrator, Chuck Gressler, DRS Field Coordinator, Marcey Tosto, DRS Scribe

Call to Order and Roll Call

Chair, BJ Nevels called the meeting to order at 10:00 am.  Program Manager, Theresa Hamrick called roll and a quorum was established. 

Introduction of New Members:

B. J. Nevels, Chair, introduced himself to the new members and gave the opportunity for the rest of the council to introduce themselves. New members were:

Glenda Farnum, representative for SILC – State Independent Living Council and Tim Parrish, for business, industry and labor.

Approval of Minutes:

Approval and acceptance of the 11-16-06 minutes, Kim Nickerson offered motion to accept the minutes, second by Kathleen Kennedy, motion carried.

Committee Reports:

Transition and Employment: Kim Nickerson, chair stated the committee has met several times, the first meeting was with Belen Burkhalter, Program Manager for the BEST Unit.  Dr. Burkhalter was asked to explain the functions of the BEST unit, what they do to establish interaction with VR Counselors across the state, and what is done to give the counselors the most up to date information. A letter was drafted to Linda Parker Director, Syedah Islam, VR Administrator and Jane Nelson, VS Administrator  for a response on focus areas that were discussed in the meeting; one being the interaction between the BEST Unit and VR Counselors and the Statewide Transition/Education Coordinator vacant position.  

The transition section of the State Plan, historically it has been a recap of what has happened and not a plan for the future.  Members of the T&E committee met with Program Managers David Couch and Marla Baker to assist them in working on the transition section of the state plan.  David and Marla were asked to describe the work they and their staff do across the state so that we could get their vision on paper and discussed how it can be expanded. A draft has been created.  An e-mail will be sent as soon as possible to schedule next meeting. 

Policy & Legislative Committee: Milissa Gofourth, chair stated two meetings have taken place.  One of the efforts that we have worked towards is in partnership with the agency to do the public hearings on the policy. One of the things that the committee wanted this year was for the ORC to make public comments in writing on the proposed policy changes that have submitted.  The P&L committee had an ORC member present at each of the three public hearings held last week. I want to thank Marilyn Burr, she went on behalf of the ORC and I attended the meetings in Lawton and Tulsa. The committee did prepare comments to the proposed changes.

Currently we are working on coordinating efforts with the Disability Awareness Day at the state capitol on April 11, 2007. A meeting has been set with Jodi Harlan to discuss what needs to take place, what coordination efforts, and how advocacy materials and other information.

We are also working with Melinda Fruendt in various areas of coordinating other pieces of the state plan as it relates to policy and other efforts.

I continue to work on Chapter 10, DRS work group for state policies on client services areas, to ensure that the state policies are in-line in keeping with the Rehabilitation Act and the regulations.  The next planning meeting is February 15, 2007.  We are working with Jean Jones to prepare educational materials that will be taken on the Capitol Hill visits during the CSAVR (Council of State Administrators for Vocational Rehabilitation) fall conference.

Planning and Program Evaluation: Doug MacMillan, chair stated the committee met and the concern is the consumer survey; I would like to look at on-line surveys and see which one of the on-line services is compliant.  I want to advocate the Governors Committee is moving into some significant areas that would benefit rehabilitation to be involved in, the next major focus, how we get “silos” of available employees to the employers.

Question for Jane Nelson: Is any going to the WIB National Conference?

Answer: Yes, Belen Burkhalter will be in attendance for DRS.

Native American VR: DeLorna Strong, we have eight Native American Vocational Rehabilitation Programs in Oklahoma; we have been working with the state VR for several years on a lot of issues & how we can serve our clients more effectively.

We are not recognized by Social Security as a vocational rehabilitation agency and that is from federal law, and we are working on that with legislation and with RSA. It is a federal mandate that Native American go through the state VR agency.  

John Ringlero who is with Delaware Nation and is the ORC representative for NAVR, he is located in the metro area.  The next NAVR meeting will be held in April, the date will be e-mailed to everyone.

Department of Rehabilitation Services Update:

Chuck Gressler, VR Field Coordinator was asked to clarify informed choice. 

Informed choice is to make sure clients make individualized choices, setting their employment goals, the types of services received and the providers of the services. With that, those choices should meet at a higher level. With situational assessments a person has an opportunity to try jobs and they come to the conclusion that is not working out, they try a different job. It is extremely important that there is counselor/client interaction as many times as possible so that they get know each other and there is no doubt what the client understand and where the counselor is coming from especially if you have someone with a cognitive disability. Once that has been established, informed choice can be taken to that next level. This is the opportunity for the counselor to bring as much information to the table so that client can look at numerous resources and jobs that the client can utilize to become successfully employed. If the person has a guardian or power of attorney due to cognition issue, then that person is given the same thing as the client. In most cases they are very much involved with that consumer.

Linda Parker, Director

Ms. Parker discussed the work force system’s focus on training for jobs that are available.  VR/VS counselors are on the Work Force Boards and that helps with knowing local demands for jobs. We are now trying to make the data coming out of the Work Force Board studies and from the Labor Market information coming out of the Department of Commerce more available to our counselors.  VR offices will post it and make it available in their offices and counselors can put the newspaper in the waiting area and look at the want ads as a part of the informed choice. We are refocusing staff in the direction of employment.  It is about work and in order for people to be eligible for VR services; they need to select goals that will ultimately get them a job. The BEST Unit will have something similar to a bulletin for the agency and will be archived for counselors to research for information.  We have a pilot program in Tulsa that gives a designated group access to the Employment Security job listings at the counselors desktop.  We are applying to become CRC Certification Centers at all of our evaluation centers.  We moving to make ourselves more linked with the work force system and to provide the accommodations that may not be so easy to get at the work force.  If the client’s aptitude for college is questionable, we do have the ability to allow students to take a few classes and if they do well, we will continue.  We have the ability to let people try and if they are not successful, then they have at least tried and they have learned something and that’s part of informed choice as well.

Question: Kathleen Kennedy – Is there a tracking system to ensure information is getting to the client on job openings?

Answer: At this point there is not a good system; we are just beginning to organize this. We now received a lot of information that is in a usable format.

Question: Marilyn Burr – How will that filter down to the VR Counselor?

Answer: We are at a point where we need to change the way we were looking at case work. We have got to get our counselors thinking differently about the work that they are doing.

With all the new information we getting from Work Force Investment we are looking at how we are using our resources so that we can increase the number of people who are getting jobs.  We have purchased a lot of services for people that haven’t actually gone to work and we are seen as the stop gap medical service provider. When you don’t qualify for Medicaid, Medicare, Worker’s Compensation, or Veterans benefits or it doesn’t cover the service that you need then people will apply for VR benefits. Clients would give counselors a list of the services that you need and we start from that and where we need to start is on the employment side. What is the job you want and what is your comprehensive assessment show; then how does your disability prevent you from getting that job. What services do you need now to help you get that job? Not here is a list of the services I need and when you give those services and then maybe I’ll think about getting a job.

Question: Kim Nickerson – Is there any accountability built in, for those who receive those medical services, what’s their accountability.

Answer: There is really nothing, the accountability starts on our side of the program. For instance, we use to be a provider on teeth and glasses; people would come in, request services for these items and they would receive the services and then they would disappear. We change our policy to say if it is necessary to get the job and it would be last service they would receive before employment not the first.

We make it very clear that this is a program about employment and the purpose of what we do is to get you a job. We are looking at other states and see how they handle some of these situations.

Most of our budget requests are based on asking for additional money for both the schools, School for the Blind and School for the Deaf. There were two requests, one for additional state dollars for deaf programs, because at this point we have virtually no state dollars available for deaf programs. All we have are the monies we provide through our VR program and we do have some funding that comes through a tax on telephone use that is to be used for services for the deaf, deaf blind, speech impaired, and hard of hearing.  Each year our commission budgets the money to provide service to those different groups based on requests from within the agency. I have been meeting with a group of people from the deaf community from all over the state who have significant concern about the lack of services to the deaf. They asked if we would propose a budget request this year for additional money and we did for $200,000. Our proposal is to use this as contracted funds.  The idea discussed with the group is to propose to contract either through non-profits that are already providing services to the deaf or with individuals who would be available to provide services. The set up would be to contact direct service positions throughout the state and this would be dependent upon the money we would be receiving. These people would be resource centers to people who are deaf in the state and would be available to do a variety of different kinds of services. The services would be information referral, intervention, understanding information that has been sent and communication for billing issues. The concern that the community has advised us is that people who are deaf don’t always understand their rights in situations. They don’t know how to self advocate because they can’t communicate clearly with the person that they are dealing with.

The other funding proposal is we were approached by the State Independent Living Council (SILC) to request additional $400,000 dollars for the five existing Independent Living Centers to allow them to expand their service areas or to expand the services themselves.

Title 1, which is our VR Grant, is fully funded at the maximum that we can receive for our federal match. If there is an increase in the COLA – Cost of Living Adjustment, and it is approved as part of our Title 1 funds that is a built in COLA, then we will have to have additional state dollars. The flip side, right now we are operating on a continuing resolution and there hasn’t been a COLA provided in that resolution. The president’s proposal is to eliminate the COLA completely out of Title 1 which would mean that there would not be any increases.   We are not asking for more VR dollars because we wouldn’t be able to match them at this point, but we may have to request them next year depending on what happens to COLA.       

Senate Bill 485 was passed; that bill allows the agency to pay incentive payment to our counselors who work on Social Security Disability claims and successfully close applicants and we are able to claim re-imbursement on the case they work on.

Senate Bill 648 did not pass, that bill creates state legislation that is consistent with new federal legislation in place to establish a method for the states to request publishers to provide electronic format for text books to be put in Braille text books.

The federal law is still in place and whatever happens we can still follow federal law. 

It can be brought up again in 2 years.

Jane Nelson, VS Administrator, Our Visual Services Center is scheduled to moved into Sheppard Mall on March 1, 2007.  The Technology Lab and Lending Lab is now available. We also have a Low Vision Lab with a contracted physician available. We have an apartment to train individuals with the activities of daily living.  We are going to have a B-FIT program in OKC area and a program in the Muskogee area.    

Unfinished Business:


New Business:

Andre Washington, president/chair of NAMRC, extends an invitation to all the ORC members to attend the conference in July.   

Consumer Comments:



Meeting adjourned.