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Oklahoma's mental services suffer cuts

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

/> White said reductions ripple through hospital emergency rooms, police departments, jails and people’s wallets.

Collateral damage
Hospitals and their emergency rooms will be asked to pick up the slack for now-missing services. The Oklahoma Hospital Association ran information on mental health and substance abuse center closure issues in a recent newsletter, Executive Director Rick Snyder said.

"We expect it to have a negative impact on Oklahoma’s hospitals, starting probably in the emergency room, which in many communities may be the only other place those patients can go for help. It’s unfortunately about the most expensive place to go for help,” Snyder said.

He predicts more patients will crowd emergency rooms and hospitals because of drunken driving accidents, domestic violence and attempted suicides resulting from people not getting treatment.

Hospitals also are losing money due to lower Medicaid payments and caring for the uninsured, he said. In Oregon, a 15 percent cut in the health plan resulted in a 20 percent increase in uninsured patients entering emergency rooms, Snyder said.

Flooding jails

Stacey Puckett, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police, said cutbacks are far-reaching.

"There is an immediate need for addressing this issue on a state basis. Because what’s happening is our county jails are being filled with mental health clients,” Puckett said. "And that certainly is not the intent for those to be mental health detention centers.”

Of the 2,101 inmates in the Oklahoma County jail Thursday, 365 were being treated for mental health issues and 20 inmates were being observed for drug and alcohol issues, said Mark Myers, Oklahoma County sheriff’s spokesman.

Puckett said problems are compounded when mentally ill or substance-abusing inmates on medication enter the jail and then have to be seen by doctors to get back on their medications. She said there’s a risk of people spiraling into poor health between the time they are booked into jail and they get to see a doctor.

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