It's make or break time

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At some point soon, some hard decisions must be made here about the future of Oakwood, the states largest residential facility for the profoundly mentally retarded located at Somerset. Simply throwing money at the trouble-plagued institution clearly isnt working.

Gov. Ernie Fetcher, in a surprise visit to the facility Wednesday, acknowledged that its make or break time for Oakwood, and that all options are under consideration.

After numerous serious problems developed at Oakwood, the federal government last fall threatened to cut off $40 million in Medicaid funds critical to its operation. At that point, a Pennsylvania firm Liberty Healthcare Corp. was hired at the staggering cost of $9.1 million to operate Oakwood only through this July 1.

The serious problems continued nonetheless. Last Friday, Oakwood was cited for allowing a patient to be released in the custody of someone claiming to be his sister, and the patient then went on a weekend spree of drinking, sex and a visit to a strip club. (And we were under the impression that Oakwood patients could not function outside an institutional setting.)

For more than $1 million a month provided by Kentucky taxpayers, Liberty Healthcare should have made progress toward ending Oakwoods chronic failings. Clearly, that has not happened.

Indeed, perhaps Oakwood has become so large nearly 300 residents with an overworked staff and the problems so ingrained that no individual or company is capable of bringing the facility under control and protecting its residents as certainly their families and Kentucky taxpayers have every reason to demand.

As legislators are in the process of crafting a new state budget that will include money to pay for Oakwoods future operation, they would be well within their responsibilities to take a thorough look at the facility and how best to meet the considerable demands of its residents. If that means reducing its population substantially by relocating patients into community settings more capable of caring for them, that should be an option.

And if resolving Oakwoods problems is best accomplished by closing down the facility, so be it.

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