Oklahoma ranks No. 2 in the nation for the highest rates of adults with serious mental illnesses, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Meanwhile, the state ranks No. 46 in the U.S. for the amount of per-capita money the state spends on mental health, according to Kaiser Health Foundation.
During the Keating Administration, Oklahoma shut down mental health capacity by over 2000 beds. The promise the legislature made was to fund community-based short term treatment facilities throughout the state. That promise was almost completely unkept. Only a few small facilities were opened and that took heavy lobbying efforts by grassroots mental health advocates. The Tulsa Center for Behavioral Health (TCBH) opened in the abandoned Doctor's Hospital, at 24th & Harvard Ave. It has 56 beds. It was originally designated to ONLY accept Tulsa County residents. But with budget cuts in the past 6 years, it now must accept any patients from all 77 counties in the state.
The other community based treatment facilities include the Carl Albert Mental Health Center, in McAlester. That finy facility has a 15-bed capacity. Lawton & Woodward also have small units. The rest are in the Norman-OKC area.
The Keating Administration's reforms were supposed to direct acute crisis care patients into a community treatment facility near them. Only the really difficult long term cases were designed to be treated in the Griffin facility. It has a 120-bed capacity. Last year, Griffin had 347 inpatient recipients.
Mental health reform has had many phases. In October 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act. The president's own sister had spent years in a mental hospital after an experimental brain surgery failed.
After four years of politics, funding debates and trips to Washington, Oklahoma opened its center in March 1967 on the grounds of Central State Griffin Memorial Hospital. It provided inpatient, outpatient and crisis services to patients who lived nearby, allowing them to live independently while still receiving care. The plan was to build 16 centers across the state.
"A place like this could be built in any community", Dr. Hayden Donahue, of Griffin Memorial Hospital, told a U.S. Senate subcommittee in 1969.
“With a network of centers across the country. I believe that many of the mentally ill who have previously been destined to vegetate for decades in custodial state hospitals can be enabled to lead socially useful and productive lives in their home communities.”
But those community mental health centers just never seem to become reality. Gov. Frank Keating's vision was never embraced by Gov. Brad Henry and the legislatures of the 21st century. And so Oklahoma only allows a few hundred Oklahomans to be spared the default judgment of being criminals. See, that's where our public safety officers put people who are deemed to vulnerable or dangerous to be left alone. Our jails are now our top mental healthcare facilities. But it costs us 3 times as much money to do that. And we have the further expense of caring for the lives we destroy in the process. A jailed mentally ill person rarely returns to a producive lifestyle capable of holding a job to provide for themselves.
Jaclyn Cosgrove, of the Daily Oklahoman, said;
"It costs an average of $2,150 a year for the mental health department to provide services to an Oklahoman in need. Meanwhile, mental health court, which can keep a person with a mental illness from going to prison, costs $5,400. Drug court is $5,000. And an inmate with a serious mental illness costs taxpayers $23,000 per year in DOC custody."
Opinion of the Editor
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David Van Risseghem is the Director of Sooner Politics.org. The resource is committed to informing & mobilizing conservative Oklahomans for civic reform. This endeavor seeks to utilize the efforts of all cooperative facets of the Conservative movement...