State Question 781 is an attempt to fix "stolen" money from 15 years ago. 781 takes the money saved from SQ 780, which adjusts monetary thresholds for nonviolent crimes,in keeping with the inflation rate; and directs that toward completing the inpatient community mental health facilities.
In the Oklahoma Constitution, there are mandates for 3 psychiatric hospitals (Vinita, Norman, and Ft. Supply). When Gov. Frank Keating left office, they had just started the transition of Closing & replacing the old 2600 bed psychiatric facility in Vinita, with a network of community-based short term treatment facilities, around the state. Western State Hospital in Fort Supply was also scaled back and converted into a small psychiatric facility. The rest of that campus was switched to a prison facility (as was Eastern State Hospital, in Vinita)
Only 2 new facilities were funded (Tulsa Center for Behavioral Health & the Carl Albert Mental Health Center in McAlester). In both new facilities, there were vacant facilities available, so the cost to set up operations was far less than expected.
But then the legislature stopped the process. The Oklahoma Dept. of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) had to find private contractors to fill in the void. Private contractors can handle clients who voluntarily seek psychiatric help; but state mental health courts were in a huge pinch because if they cannot "commit" a person to a private facility. So we have this perpetual waiting list and cops end up arresting people on whatever charges they can justify, just to get them incarcerated.
781 takes the money saved from SQ 780, adjusting thresholds for nonviolent crimes (in keeping with the inflation rate), and directs that toward completing the inpatient community mental health facilities.
Our state needs about 20 more facilities to increase capacity to about 1000 more beds.
Jails cost way more (per bed) than psychiatric facilities. The reform actually saves money to operate, but the initial infrastructure expense needs the kind of money that led to this reform idea.
The costs of arresting people in the midst of a nervous breakdown are many.
Like most Oklahomans, I used to have this mental picture of a recreational drug abuser as some college-age kid looking for a thrill. But the broader picture is of an unstable person seeking to self-medicate himself into a more stable mental health status. Pot and booze are the most common substances that unstable people turn to. They are scared and usually unwilling to open up about their condition. That's because of the social stigma that our society has fostered. While these self-medication substances mask some of the symptoms, the undelying brain chemistry continues to go untreated and the person gets worse.
With the great discoveries and new treatment options, most severely ill psychiatry patients stay less than 10 days at an inpatient facility. Forty years ago, those same patients would have spent months in an old inpatient facility like the massive campus in Vinita.
State Question 781 allows us to save way more money than State Question 780 does. But we have to pass both 780 & 781, to modernize our laws and our state funding of a modern & efficient state mental health system.
This may seem like an unimportant matter to many voters. But when you have a loved one being treated as a criminal for the illness that they couldn't get any help for; it will become a really big issue that you wish you could have avoided, by supporting SQ780 & 781.
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...