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.
- Police power is costly and more likely to be lethal, when a person's psychosis includes paranoia.
- Jails cost communities way more. and the local communities are watching their taxes go up faster than state taxes have.
- Jails are dangerous for a psychotic person. And the rest of the jail population is also put at risk, as are the personnel running the jail.
- The District Attorney's staff are having to spread resources too thin as it is. When a cop knowingly misapplies criminal statutes just to get a psychotic person off the streets; the prosecutors have to go through the motions of attaching a criminal record to a person who has more important issues to deal with.
- The goal is to make sure the public is safe, and the ill person is safe. But jail staff are trained to assume that "bad guys" are in jail. Too often they miss the signals and mentally ill people end up dead in the county jail. Sometimes lawsuits result. Our counties are spending multi millions of dollars in wrongful death or injury lawsuits.
- If a person is given the opportunity to be in a psychiatric facility during a meltdown, they can take a medical leave from work and potentially keep their job when they recover. But you get fired if you are in jail.
- If you go to jail, you'll likely be there for a couple months. If an ill parent has minor children, they end up in foster care at a huge expense to the state taxpayers. But treatment centers would usually have the person stabilized with a treatment program, and move them to outpatient status within 10 days. Quite often, extended family members take in the children for these short term needs. That is a huge cost savings to the public. But it's even more impacting on the ill person's recovery prospects.
- When we 'criminalize' a nervous breakdown, the ill person has a much harder path toward recovery. the ill person needs family support. If he lost his kids, he further suffers the lack of encouragement family gives.
- It's hard enough getting back to productivity with a mental illness. But when you lost your job and got a police record, you really have a hard time finding courage within yourself, to get back on your feet. When no one else believes in you, there is far less likelihood of resuming a productive life. the possibility is greater that the ill person will perpetually be an expense to society.
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.