Monday, October 23, 2017

Cutbacks Will Hurt Local Mental Health Agencies

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health Services (ODMHSAS) announced last week plans to eliminate all state funded outpatient services statewide if Oklahoma legislators are unable to find a resolution to the $215 million budget shortfall.

The anticipated shortfall could close or substantially decrease services provided by CREOKS Behavioral Health Services in Sallisaw, the Sequoyah County Drug Court, Juvenile Services, and others. ODMHSAS’ portion of the shortfall equates to 23 percent of their budget which would force the cut-back of outpatient services beginning Dec. 1. 

CREOKS Behavioral Health Services is a non-profit mental and behavioral health agency that has been serving communities in Oklahoma since 1980, including in Sallisaw.

Amber Gutierrez, CREOKS marketing director in Tulsa, released the following on Thursday.

“CREOKS Behavioral Health Services provides outpatient services to roughly 15,000 Oklahomans in our 21 clinics every year and employs 478 therapists, case managers, doctors, nurses and support staff. If these cuts are initiated, the negative impact will not only be felt by our consumers and staff, but by every Oklahoman in the state. These measures are far reaching as it is estimated that 189,000 Oklahoman’s currently receive outpatient services, 700 treatment agencies could suffer or close their doors, and more than 8,500 Oklahoman’s working in the mental health field could suddenly become unemployed.

“It is our hope that our communities will stand together to oppose these cuts and will individually contact their legislators to urge them to find a solution quickly.”

Ron Copeland, area supervisor for the Office of Juvenile Services, said that service will be impacted.

“But it’s really hard to say how badly,” he added. “Everybody is still wondering when this will take place and how it will be implemented.”

The Sequoyah County Office of Juvenile Services is with People Inc. in Sallisaw. 

ODMHSAS said cutback plans are in response to the $75 million that was ripped from its budget due to the overturning of a cigarette tax. If additional funds are not appropriated for fiscal year 2018, ODMHSAS will be forced to initiate these plans. A cut of this magnitude represents 23 percent of the ODMHSAS budget, with an additional loss of $106 million in federal matching funds.

In a press release, the ODMHSAS said the agency has no choice but to announce plans for cuts that must be initiated in November, and fully implemented during December and January.

“ODMHSAS has delayed this action as long as possible; however, we must initiate processes the first week of November to meet the shortfall that begins in December. If initiated, these cuts will impact nearly 189,000 Oklahomans currently receiving outpatient services, 700 treatment agencies in communities statewide and more than 8,500 therapists, case managers, doctors and nurses, not to mention hundreds of support staff,” the ODMHSAS press release reports.

“Our hope is that a solution is found in time to keep these cuts from happening,” said ODMHSAS Commissioner Terri White. “At the same time, as of now, we must move forward with plans and to allow those plans to move forward without notifying all impacted would be unfair and irresponsible. These cuts are unbearable and will decimate our state’s behavioral health care system. Yet, they are the only choices the agency has left to keep from completely eliminating services for Oklahoma’s most acutely ill.”

The services lost will include all state-funded outpatient services statewide for indigent and behavioral health Medicaid eligible clients, as well as the elimination of residential treatment services for children. Drug courts, mental health courts and other court related programs will no longer be funded. The state’s Systems of Care program that serves vulnerable youth and their families, in addition to other state agencies and local schools, will be discontinued.

Law enforcement agencies are already predicting an uptick in jail population and crime, as treatment providers close their doors and behavioral health services are no longer available. Additional impact will include an increase in suicides, drug overdoses, as well as significant loss of jobs to Oklahoma communities, increased demand on local hospital emergency rooms and first responders. All of these negative consequences will be more costly than simply funding these services, in terms of lives and dollars, said White.

In response to the announcement, the members of the Oklahoma Behavioral Health Association are planning a rally at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the state capitol.

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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