Oklahomans and Tulas residents’ access to and use of mental health services have improved significantly in recent years, despite complaints to the contrary, several area leaders say.
We checked the boxes, said Carrie Slatton-Hodges, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, during a visit to Tulsa World last week.
Slatton-Hodges was referring to the Tulsa mental health plan put together several years ago by a group convened by the Zarrow Foundation.
One of those boxes, Slatton-Hodges said, is the new, larger Tulsa Behavioral Health Center planned for downtown Tulsa.
It’s a huge lift, she said. I ticked that off. It was a twinkle in the eye of this group five, six years ago. And so there was a lot of that planning and work, and it was done by a large group of stakeholders in Tulsa.
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Oklahoma is in the midst of investing hundreds of millions of private, state, local and federal dollars in behavioral health, which ranges from early-stage addiction to advanced mental illness, often exacerbated by substance abuse or misuse.
Slatton-Hodges pointed to services initiated or expanded across the state in recent years, including:
15 certified community behavioral health clinics providing mental health services to Medicaid patients statewide;
20 emergency recovery and crisis centers, aiming to have at least one in every area of 20,000 or more residents by the middle of next year;
Implementation of the 988 mental health hotline with staff in the state; and
Transportation and telehealth initiatives to improve access.
In Tulsa, Parkside Psychiatric Hospital built a new 114,500-square-foot facility and expanded services, especially for children. Three urgent and crisis care centers have opened, and in the past three years there has been a 43% increase in the number of adults receiving mental health services and a 37% increase in those seeking substance use disorder treatment.
A recently announced grant will provide $9 million for mental health services in Tulsa Public Schools.
However, it must be admitted that there are loopholes in the system and areas of sometimes open disagreement.
Tulsa is said to be one of the few cities its size without acute mental health care beds in its general hospitals. The David L. Center for Criminal Justice
This latter circumstance appears to be largely the result of disagreement over the best way to address the backlog of inmates in Tulsa and other counties who cannot enter the legal process because they have been judged mentally incompetent.
Until recently, such treatment was available only at the Oklahoma Forensic Center in Vinita, and the waiting list for a bed there has grown to about 300.
Now it’s at 230, Slatton-Hodges said.
The Department of Mental Health began organizing services at county jails about six months ago, she said.
Some in Tulsa County, however, apparently see the program as less than adequate for the task at hand. They favor more patient capacity, which Slatton-Hodges said is under construction. She expects the system to be within about 100 beds of what is needed once expansions at the Oklahoma Forensic Center, the Tulsa Behavioral Health Center and other capital projects are completed in the next few years.
Slatton-Hodges said the situation is largely a combination of factors, including the elimination of state long-term care facilities for the mentally ill without providing enough alternatives and urban areas wanting to get the mentally ill off the streets.
You see society’s desire to say, We have to do something with these people. We have to get them off the streets. We have to do something, Slatton-Hodges said. You no longer have, you are no longer allowed to take away someone’s civil rights to the extent that it used to happen.
And what I think you’re seeing, then, is you say, Well, let’s do it on the criminal side. (The mentally ill) are charged; they go to the hospital this way. Let’s keep them there for a long time, and that solves everything. And that doesn’t solve everything. But I think it speaks to some of the evils that you see, she continued.
Specifically, Slatton-Hodges said: We don’t have a private hospital system in Tulsa stepping up to say, Hey, well be part of the solution here. The state can’t be everything to Tulsa. It shouldn’t be.
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