Rosie’s picture shows agency attitude

A picture of Rosie the Riveter is on Linda J. Johnston’s desk in the Tulsa County Social Services office.
That picture of a World War II poster also symbolizes the agency’s attitude towards helping people.
Tulsa County’s Social Services program mission remains much the same as it as for the past 88 years — helping people get their lives in order.
Services, varying from medical to food to death have been part of the outreach, said Johnston, who is in her 19th year of service at the agency.
It’s not really possible to understand the scope of the Tulsa County Social Services without knowing its history.
Johnston said many services being provided today are the outgrowth help provided in 1921 when the ‘‘Poor Farm’’ was organized.
Nor do many people realize the original location was in what today is LaFortune Park, nor that it now is the site of the Herman and Kate Kaiser Library.
Today the Tulsa County Social Services helps people rebuild their lives by providing access to shelter, medical care and prescription medicines.
Two doctors provide a triage of medical care to individuals detained in the juvenile bureau and at the Social Services Center at 2400 Charles Page Blvd. Those requiring acute care are sent on to outside medical facilities.
Changes also have been made in the pharmacy.
For many years the county was able to purchase prescription drugs at cost, then sell them to people at the same price. But as drug prices increased it was necessary take a different approach because many clients could not afford the medicine, even at wholesale prices.
It took a change in state law to allow nursing homes to turn unopened medicines over to the county. As an additional protection, the law allows only retired physicians to make the transfers.
Using the retired doctors to transport the medicines is a reassurance to everyone involved in the program, Johnston said.
‘‘Who in the community doesn’t trust the retired Dr. Welbys?’’ she asked.
Johnston said she would only guess about the value of drugs that had been dispensed under the program since the program started, setting the initial number at about $6 million by the end of the year.
Retail costs of those drugs was estimated between $8 million and $9 million.
The total cost to the county is set at $1,440.
The drug program has earned the agency the Rodney L. Huey Memorial Champion of Community Health Award from Blue Cross and Blue Shield. It will be presented Nov. 17.
The award also comes with a $2,500 prize in recognition of the work that has been done.
It was in 2006 the county won the Acts of Caring Award, a legacy award for excellence and innovation from the National Association of Caregivers for the recycled medicine program.
A food voucher program also is used to help people, Johnston said. This small voucher between $20 and $25 is given to people and used at Warehouse Market. They purchase basic grocery items. Allowed food items are typed on the invoice.
Individuals coming to the shelter are encouraged to apply for food stamps.
Because of the demand, the budget for a month is quickly used up and is ended until the next month. This is a common measure used by non profits during these tough economic times when donations are down.
Final services also are provided.
Few people realize the county has a burial and cremation program, she said. The county has a wonderful cooperative relationship with area funeral homes as well as three cemeteries — Memorial, Green Acres and Crown Heights that provide spaces. Talks currently are underway with Rose Hill Cemetery where officials have said they want to designate property for that purpose.
Between 75 to 80 burials are handled each year by the county, Johnston said. The answer is ‘‘no’’ when asked whether or not the county operates a pauper’s cemetery. County employees are not digging graves.
Decedents generally come from the medical examiner’s office and county services are used only when family members cannot be located. Some families have the resources to pay for a funeral and the county is not involved. When there are no resources or the family refuses to pay for the services, then the county steps in.
Johnston gives funeral homes a great deal of credit in locating relatives, adding that there are times when the county becomes the family.
Generally those buried by the county are cremated, she said. When law enforcement requests the body be buried in case of a possible exhumation being required in the future, then burial is done.
The burial request is seldom made and Johnston recalls perhaps 10 requests being made in the 19 years.
Services in one section of the building are dedicated to families and children.
If a family shows up needing assistance, the get help, she said. Single men are referred to the John 3:16 Mission.
Currently, the shelter is jammed and has been for months, Johnston said. Curiously, the peak time is during the summer when evictions seem to be highest. There are fewer people during the winter because some landlords are a little more reluctant to throw people out in the cold. Similarly, utility companies are less anxious to cut service because of the dramatic impact it might have on people.
Some people have past due utility bills that have been in the thousands of dollars.
The economy is fragile and families come for help because they haven’t been able to pay utility bills and the rent. Dad has a job and mom is helping with part time work. When any income source is cut off they are in trouble. They are very dependent upon the two paychecks.
Last summer as Johnston walked through the center, she noticed a large number of children playing in the area. They had come from homes where their families had been displaced.
Johnston worries about the children impacted by the move to the county shelter.
It has to be devastating to be taken away from familiar surroundings in their home, their toys and neighborhood friends and brought to a strange place, she said. That is why it is so important to get the families the needed help and back into homes or apartments as soon as possible.
Some people are taught basic life skills in addition to budgeting.
Women have come to the shelter after losing their apartment or home because they had quit work because their child became ill and there was no one to take care of them.
It never occurred to these women to have backup plans in place, utilizing relatives or friends to care for their child so they didn’t have to quit work, she said. It also is amazing how many people have no health literacy. They don’t recognize the common childhood diseases such as chicken pox or mumps.
Efforts now are being made to get the OU Health Medical Center to start a program that would help people know signs of and how to deal with these illnesses.
Educating mom and dad about these illnesses can prevent many expensive trips to the emergency room.
When families come to the shelter and there is obvious child abuse, then the Department of Human Services, Parent Child Services or other agency is called in.
Before that happens parents are taught skills to avoid these situations, she said. ‘‘I can’t remember the last time a child abuse case was reported from here. I do not see inappropriate discipline.’’
Perhaps the entire effort can be called “Parenting 101,” Johnston said.
Those coming to the center for assistance also must help themselves.
Part of the requirement is a parent must have a job and meet certain goals that have been established. It might be developing a payment program on debts, but it always includes saving some money each paycheck.
Savings are used to pay deposits on apartments and meet other expenses when families leave the shelter. When they leave, they have a savings account that will provide a bit of a cushion if there is another financial problem. Many people have said that this was the first time they ever had a savings account.
Transportation also is provided to people staying at the shelter, she said. They are taken to medical appointments, to the Social Security office and places where they can take steps towards improving their lives. No transportation is provided to Taco Bell or to see Aunt Betty.
Former clients sometimes remember the help they received.
Johnston recalled a time when there was a loud knocking at the shelter’s kitchen door.
It was a delivery man from the Bama Pie Company with a large delivery from that company.
The unordered food was donated by a former shelter resident and it was her way of saying ‘‘thank you,’’ she said.
The shelter isn’t a permanent home.
Anyone not working towards the established goals is shown the door, Johnston said.

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