Medical advancement has greatly improved the outlook for individuals suffering a serious mental illness. Prior to the last 40 years, patients typically spent 6 months in a mental health facility when they experienced a psychotic break. With effective intervention, they are now likely to move to outpatient status within 10 days. They return to a productive life of work, studies, or other pursuits within a month.
But when their mental meltdown results in a law enforcement incident, they usually sit in a jail without medical treatment for months. They can't take a medical leave & keep their job; because they are in jail! They likely lose their kids to the state. They may get out of jail, but they are alone, without a job, and with a criminal stigma in their community.
The dollar that we cut from the state's mental health institutions, we have then spent 3 times over in county jail costs and municipal policing costs. When we add the cost of DHS custody of children, and the depleated prospects for a sufferer to ever have a productive career, the costs to our society are beyond what ignorant stupidity can account for.
It is time for a legislature to demonstrate the wisdom of leadership and save our families, cities, and counties from the devastating expense of ignoring the capitulations of the past legislatures.
In the 1960s, Oklahoma's mental health institutions used to handle over 4000 patients in our 3 massive "sanitariums". While our state's population has more than doubled since then, the institutional capacity at our state's mental hospitals has dropped to less than 10% of what it was.
At the same time, our prisons have exploded in populations of mentally ill patients. Tulsa County Jail, alone, recently reported over 600 mentally ill patients in their jail population. We have effectively criminalized our mental health policy. When a person is stripped of all rights through a court conviction, they can no longer hold anyone accountable for improper or abusive mental health care. The mentally ill are no more violent than the US population as a whole. But they are far more likely to be abused because of their illness. Jail violence is a leading cause of homicide of mentally ill victims.
Federal regulations are so stiff when it comes to hospitals treating patients. This has rendered the old Eastern State Hospital(Vinita) as 'unfit', as a healthcare facility. Most of the Central State Hospital (Griffen Memorial, in Norman) is also unfit as a treatment facility. The Vinita facility was closed as a hospital, but converted into a prison mental health facility. Most of the Griffin campus sits empty.
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."