Deaf Oregonians cry foul in DHS contracting process
The Oregon Department of Human Services is in the process of hiring a company to coordinate and provide interpretive services for deaf and hard of hearing Oregonians, but the very people who are supposed to benefit from the services are saying they’ve been left out of the process.
The deaf and hard of hearing community is criticizing the state for not soliciting its input when writing the request for proposal and for choosing an out-of-state company. Signing Resources & Interpreters is negotiating a contract with state officials. Some have demanded that the state cease talks with the Vancouver, Wa., company and start over.
For years, there was only one full-time state staffer coordinating and billing for interpretive services across the state, said Nathan Singer, deputy chief operating officer for aging and people with disabilities. But as the job became more demanding, Singer said, it became clear that a contractor was needed to help provide the services.
The program supports hearing impaired Oregonians’ ability to participate in public meetings and take advantage of state provided services. Other government agencies can also request the service from DHS.
According to the request for proposal, the Oregon Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services provides 700 to 1,100 hours of interpreter services statewide per month.
The RFP was issued in April. Seven proposals were submitted and six were scored by three DHS employees and one member of the Oregon Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Advisory Committee. DHS is now in negotiations with the top scoring proposer.
Members of Oregon’s deaf community and advocates packed a meeting room in the Oregon State Library on Wednesday afternoon for an open forum with DHS. With the help of interpreters, people asked questions and expressed their complaints.
Chad Ludwig, president of the Oregon Association of the Deaf, said through an interpreter that DHS did not seek out comments from the ODHHS advisory committee and that it invited members to help score the proposers late in the process. The state also refused to accept the committee’s input in editing the RFP, he said.
The OAD board also has concerns with Signing Resources & Interpreters, he said, because leaders of the local deaf community have never heard of the business.
Singer agreed that DHS could have done a better job engaging with the deaf community, but during the procurement process, the state takes a step back from speaking with stakeholders. The hands off approach is deliberate and used to avoid creating a perception of favoritism, he said.