Oklahoma's mental services suffer cuts

BY SONYA COLBERG Modified: February 15, 2010 at 6:58 am •  Published: February 15, 2010

A huge question looms for Susan Boehrer. And she figures she has particular insight, because mental illness plunged her daughter into more than 400 days of hospitalization and a violent conduct disorder made her son a ward of the juvenile justice system.

"Do you really want to be driving down the road, looking at the car next to you, wondering if that’s one of the folks who, because of the cuts to mental health, aren’t receiving the services they need?” Boehrer said.

It’s a question she said more people likely will be asking as budget cuts — about $17 million and counting — deplete the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Department. Already almost half of the 400 available beds have been cut. More cuts are on the way.

The impact will be wide-ranging, Boehrer, of Washington, OK, said.

"If my child is in class with your child and my child isn’t receiving the mental health services that they need, then my child is still going to be in your child’s class,” she said. "Except for now, it’s going to take more resources to serve my child and more of the teacher’s time. Which means it’s going to take away from someone else’s child.”

Mrs. Oklahoma 1999, Susan Boehrer, with her husband, Terry, adopted two children and completed their family by taking in two other teens. But the family picture quickly went out of focus. Their daughter, Maddy, would hear voices, jump out of moving cars or cut herself as her complex disorder wracked her mind, leading to six trips to the emergency room. Drug use became an issue with their son, Tyler, and violence caused by his conduct disorder caused his parents to call 10 times for help from police or sheriff’s deputies.

Tyler, 22, is now stable, married and in the military and Maddy, 18, attends alternative school. But Maddy’s mental health care is in limbo. Boehrer waits to find Maddy’s next doctor because the family is unsure how additional budget cuts might affect doctors and programs.

Terri White, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services commissioner, said department budget cuts can affect any family.

"I think anytime you are denying services to someone who needs medical care, it’s a dangerous situation,” White said.

She said mentally ill or addicted people and their families may be at risk. Though she said the mentally ill aren’t usually violent, when they are, the result is often scary.

"When you talk about adding drugs and alcohol to the mix, we know that increases the propensity for self-harm and violence, that’s why it’s so important for folks to have the access to treatment so they are able to stay drug- and alcohol-free,” she said. Know it: Mental Health


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