Oklahoma governor to seek more money for mental health services

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: January 23, 2013
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Gov. Mary Fallin, concerned by last month's school shootings in Connecticut, is recommending more money for Oklahoma's mental health agency.

Fallin said the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings have caused lawmakers and policymakers across the country to look at mental health services.

The incident “reminds us what can happen when mental health issues go unaddressed in a state or undiagnosed or frankly ignored,” Fallin said Wednesday.

She told reporters during a legislative forum sponsored by The Associated Press she will ask lawmakers to allocate an additional $16 million for the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Department, which received $193.3 million this fiscal year.

She is recommending the extra money pay for a third community crisis center in the state and beef up funding of programs intended to reduce suicide and prescription drug abuse. She also wants money to go to a program that helps children and families with children who are suffering serious emotional issues.

“In my executive budget, I will propose that we will strengthen and expand the services so that more Oklahomans can get treatment for the needs of substance abuse, depression and a variety of other mental health issues,” said Fallin, who since being elected governor in 2010 has backed funding of mental health services.

“We can do a better job of assessing an issue that a person might have as it relates to a behavioral issue — whether it's a mental health issue, a substance abuse issue or whether they have some criminal behavior within themselves,” she said. “And where does that person really belong? Do they belong in a mental health facility? Do they belong in a correctional facility? Or do they need treatment for some type of substance abuse problem?”

Medicaid costs

She also said she would seek an additional $40 million to pick up Medicaid costs for about 61,000 Oklahomans who are eligible for Medicaid but are not enrolled in the health care program.

Fallin will present her budget request of nearly $7 billion to lawmakers Feb. 4, the first day of this year's session. It's estimated legislators will have about $170 million more to appropriate this year compared with last year.

Fallin and lawmakers agreed last year to increase the mental health agency's budget by $6.2 million; $3 million went to the agency's Systems of Care program, which consists of community-based services dealing with the needs of children, adolescents and their families who have a serious emotional disturbance; and $2.5 million was earmarked to create a 16-bed community crisis center.

Mental Health Commissioner Terri White, who requested five centers last year, said developing community partnerships resulted in the agency being able to develop two centers — one in Tulsa and one in Ardmore. The centers will provide treatment to those suffering psychotic disorders and will offer an alternative to people going to hospital emergency rooms, where the cost is more expensive. Law officers, many of whom now travel long distances to take mentally ill inmates to get treatment, also will be able to use the centers.