Agency’s proposed cuts will flood jails

Tim Hudson |

Area officials said the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services plan to eliminate all state-funded outpatient services statewide will be disastrous.

“It will lead to a significant increase in crime — flooding overcrowded and underfunded county jails that are not equipped to provide help to this fragile populace,” Osage County Sheriff Eddie Virden said. “Its only a matter of time before a lack of needed treatment leads to more innocent victims.”

The state agency announced plans eliminating all state-funded outpatient services statewide last week.

“This is in response to the $75 million that was ripped from its budget due to the overturning of a cigarette tax. If additional funds are not appropriated for fiscal year 2018, ODMHSAS will be forced to initiate these plans, according to the press release.

The cut represents 23 percent of the state agencies budget and an additional loss of $106 million in federal matching funds.

According to the release, the state agency has “no choice but to announce plans for cuts that must be initiated in November, and fully implemented during December and January.”

“ODMHSAS has delayed this action as long as possible; however, we must initiate processes the first week of November to meet the shortfall that begins in December. If initiated, these cuts will impact nearly 189,000 Oklahomans currently receiving outpatient services, 700 treatment agencies in communities statewide and more than 8,500 therapists, case managers, doctors and nurses, not to mention hundreds of support staff,” according to the press release.

Nowata County Sheriff Sandy Hadley said such a cut would hurt statewide.

“The cuts will be devastating not just for Nowata County but for all of Oklahoma. Most inmates have mental health issues as well as a drug addictions. Without services it seems it will be up to law enforcement to deal with the impact of seriously psychological ill by housing them in the jail without treatment or even medication. We already deal with a number of suicide attempts which takes more supervision in the jail,” she said.

“With my background experience as supervising many inmates I have first-hand knowledge at how some offenders can be a high risk to society when not on meditation or in services. More training will be needed for officers and detention and transport officers to deal with inmates who are not on meditation. We will also see a rise in crime from the mentally ill who are not labeled offenders or have a past criminal history because treatment does work and without it their thinking and violent tendencies will not be controlled. Programs like the Washington/Nowata Drug Court are highly successful and without that alternative we will have no choice but to jail them,” Hadley said.

The state agency’s Commissioner Terri White said the legislature may found a solution in time to keep the cuts from happening. Legislators have been meeting for weeks in a special session to found ways to plug the revenue-budget gap, but no deals have been announced.

The state agency must make plans now in case the legislature doesn’t act, White said. It would be unfair and irresponsible for the agency to move forward with the planned cuts and not tell the agencies and clients that could be affected.

“These cuts are unbearable and will decimate our state’s behavioral health care system. Yet, they are the only choices the agency has left to keep from completely eliminating services for Oklahoma’s most acutely ill,” White said.

Washington County Sheriff Rick Silver said loss of the treatment would have an impact on his department from the jail side as well as a field side.

“We deal with individuals daily in the jail that are in my opinion caught up in the system,” Silver said.

Many times they have committed a crime, but were unaware of what they were doing, he said. The criminal justice system is the dumping ground for people in these situations, Silver said, adding often the criminal justice system lacks the proper training or funding to help these people.

“I think these changes that could potentially take place will cause us to see an increase in incarcerations of people who quite frankly don’t need to be in jail but need to be in a location where mental health professionals can deal with and monitor around the clock,” he said. “What this does is basically pass the buck onto the backs of the local taxpayers and also further increases the counties risk for legal action to be taken against us in the event we were to have something occur in our facility involving someone suicidal or with other mental health issues that we are not properly trained to deal with. As always we will do the best we can with what we have.”

Services lost will “include all state-funded outpatient services statewide for indigent and behavioral health Medicaid eligible clients, as well as the elimination of residential treatment services for children. Drug courts, mental health courts and other court related programs will no longer be funded. The state’s Systems of Care program that serves vulnerable youth and their families, in addition to other state agencies and local schools, will be discontinued, according to the state agency’s press release.

Washington/Nowata County District Attorney Kevin Buchanan said the cut would directly impact several current programs.

“This cut would immediately impact the eighty plus individuals now in our Drug Court program that are there as an alternative to prison. The new program for outpatient mental health treatment would end as well as the mental health treatment that Defendants receive as a part of either their regular probation or the Community Sentencing program that is again, the alternative to a prison sentence” he said.

“This cut, if it happens, runs contrary to everything the voters approved in Proposition 780 last November, that being provide treatment to those with addiction and mental health issues. Doing nothing is not acceptable in most circumstances, and this will leave jail as the only option.”