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More than 7,000 Oklahomans could lose mental health services, agency leaders warn

Oklahoma's mental health system faces a shrinking amount of federal dollars, putting further stress on the need for state dollars at a time when there isn't much money to go around.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: January 22, 2014

Since the program began about 10 years ago in Oklahoma, the state has seen a 39 percent reduction in self-harm attempts, which includes suicide attempts, among these children. Additionally, among these children, there has been a 48 percent reduction in arrests and a 53 percent reduction in school detentions.

“The department of mental health in Maryland has in their state department signs up that say ‘Be Oklahoma,' and it is not about football, it is not about basketball — it is because they are No. 2 in the United States for Systems of Care, and they know we're No. 1,” White said.

The $1.6 million that Oklahoma would have to provide to receive the grant is less than the money the grant required in previous years.

Further losses

Additionally, a Bureau of Justice Assistance grant that finances 174 drug court slots expires this year. That grant's expiration is part of the $21 million request.

More than 4,000 people are in Oklahoma's drug court programs, people who would otherwise be in prison, White said.

The rearrest rate among drug court graduates after five years is about 24 percent, compared to 54 percent among people released from prison, according to data from the mental health department.

“If those slots aren't funded, those will be 174 less slots that will be in the drug court program, and that means 174 people on any given day, instead of sitting in drug court, will be sitting in prison,” White said. “Drug court is $5,000 a year. Prison is $19,000 a year. So that's where we are.”

Providing the additional money is likely a daunting task for lawmakers.

The Oklahoma Legislature is projected to have about $170.8 million less revenue available to appropriate for the next fiscal year than it appropriated for the current fiscal year. That would be a 2.4 percent cut and set the stage for tough budget negotiations.

White said cutting the rate that the agency pays its private mental health providers is not a great option.

The agency reimburses providers 75 percent of Medicare, whereas medical professionals providing services outside of mental health are, at times, reimbursed 95 percent of what Medicare pays, she said.

“We do have providers that are at risk of closing their doors if we also talk about rate cuts because our rates are already so low,” White said. “This is not an area where we get to say we're one of the top five in the nation. ... Not only may it mean the people who are able stay in business cutting people out, but it may mean whole shops closing — and if that's in a rural area, there may not be another provider.”


Staff Writer Randy Ellis

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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