The Edmond Sun

Local News

April 26, 2014

Mental health commissioner talks about budget cuts

$21M in new services might be eliminated

EDMOND — The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services needs $26.52 million of additional appropriations to maintain programs at current levels, said Terri White, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

ODMHSAS is saving money for the state, but also has been given additional tasks that cost money, she said.

“When you look at our budget last year compared to what we’re going to have to pay next year,” White said, “we have no choice. We have to pay $21 million next year over-and-above what we paid this year just to serve the same number of people.”

Meanwhile, the state faces a $188 million budget shortfall this year, according to House Speaker Jeff Hickman. Some agencies, including ODMHSAS, are being told to prepare for flat budgets for 2014-15.

“A flat budget for us is a $21 million cut of bills next year we have to pay,” White said. “… That stand-still budget will be $21 million of services that will have to be cut next year.”

Many Oklahoma families are hurting with mental health issues, White said. More than 21 percent of Oklahomans have mental health issues, she said. Twelve percent of the state’s population lives their life with substance abuse, which includes alcohol and drugs.

“That means it’s between 700,000 and 950,000 Oklahomans that are struggling,” White said of the 21 percent. In fiscal year 2013, ODMHSAS was able to reach 187,000 of them with programs and services.

The good news is that ODMHSAS provides good outcomes for the people they are able to help. For example, during the past three years, Gov. Mary Fallin has championed a $2 million investment in two women’s substance abuse treatment programs for women who were at risk of entering the criminal justice system, White told The Edmond Sun.

“For the couple of hundred women it has served so far, it saved over $6.4 million in avoiding incarceration costs,” White said. This cost savings does not include the indirect cost of foster care for children.

The Systems of Care program is another source of pride for ODMHSAS, White said.

Systems of Care is designed to help children with complex mental health and substance abuse issues that could endanger others. Oklahoma leads the nation in positive outcomes due to the Systems of Care program, White said.

A cohort of 200 children revealed a $4.7 million cost savings for taxpayers in removing the need of foster care placement, White said. The children were able to stay in their own homes.

The program began in 2001 when desperate parents were giving up the custody of their children to DHS voluntarily because they couldn’t find the help their children needed, White said.

“The didn’t know how to keep their other children safe,” White said.

Another cost-saving measure involves a savings to law enforcement when transporting an individual to a substance abuse crisis center or an emergency room, White said. When all the beds are full, law enforcement must drive farther.

“Nobody wants to get their health care riding in the back of a police car in handcuffs,” White said. “And it’s not a good thing for law enforcement to have to be off the streets.”

The average law enforcement transport for one person is 104 miles per round trip, she said. So the state funded three of the five crisis centers asked for by ODMHSAS, White said. Each crisis center serves more than 2,000 people annually.

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