Mental Health Cuts In Oklahoma Leave Thousands Without Treatment

Oklahoma state officials anticipate cutting $9.8 million from mental health services and treatment centers in Oklahoma City by June.

Governor Mary Fallin proposed cutting roughly three percent of funds in every state agency. That will mean shaving off another $10 million just from mental health programs alone.

Currently, Oklahoma can afford to treat about 200,000 mental and behavioral health patients. However, there are still over 750,000 people struggling without state assisted benefits and treatment.

With the most recent budget cuts in motion, the state will only be able to help those with the most severe disabilities and disorders, which leaves many patients who rely on state funding for mental health care without treatment. The department will take the biggest blow by removing administration costs and restricting the budget for suicide awareness and prevention services.

Terri White is the commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. She says that the department will begin the cuts by removing reimbursement to nearly 1,000 therapists in the SoonerCare program, removing over $1 million dollars from the state mental health funding right off the top.

The state has petitioned to make these cuts in order to balance funding on programs and departments statewide.

While the decision is not yet final, and lies in the hands of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which convenes on Thursday, Terri White says that cutting the service is the least terrible of all the choices.

“There’s been quite a bit of dialogue on this cut,” she said.

“Cutting anyone out of mental health and substance abuse services is heartbreaking. What we should be doing is increasing funding.”

She said that, while it was unfortunate, cuts always mean that someone has to lose, and that they would now roll downhill to the patients.

“When you have a system that is this under-funded, you can’t cut money out and expect that the services are going to remain the same,” she said.

“There’s no question that’s going to put quite a burden on the mental health of Oklahoma, in general, especially in the rural areas,” said Dr. Art Rousseau, a psychiatrist and chairman of Oklahoma State Medical Association’s legislative committee.

He says that many therapists are very upset with the state’s proposal, and that they are extremely concerned as to the future of the patients that will be denied services.

While they hope that most patients will refer out to new places and continue treatments, many therapists and mental health specialists worry that patients will just drop all services they do qualify for if they are not getting all of the assistance they require.

State officials, especially those who are against the drastic cuts in the mental health department, fear increases in suicides, crime and school dropouts as a result of the program butchering.

White says that nearly 2,000 patients stand to lose services with the budget cuts that are already in place, and that if Fallin’s proposal goes through, the number could rise to as many as 17,000.

“Another three percent is another 10 million dollars out of an already underfunded system and will affect at least, at least 16,000 Oklahomans,” White said.

Cathy Costello is urging the legislature to keep more cuts from happening. Her son, Christian Costello, suffers with mental illness and stands accused of killing his father last summer. She hopes that the state will see reason, rather than a chance to refill its bank account and serve its own agenda.

“You’re spending the money somewhere. You’ll spend it on mental health, or you’ll spend it in the jails and prisons, because over 57 percent of people in prison who are there long-term suffer with mental illness,” Costello said.

Officials plan to update the status as soon as the fate of the mental health programs is decided on Thursday.

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