Staff and Wire Reports

NORMAN, Oklahoma - Dozens of employees at state mental health facilities will be laid off by March because of budget cuts.

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is looking to cut about $4.5 million from its operating budget because of revenue shortfalls.

The agency has sent Reduction in Force notices to 45 employees at mental health facilities in Norman. Notices were also sent to nine employees at the Bill Willis Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Center in Tahlequah.

The layoffs had been expected for several weeks.

Norman's Transition House partners with Norman's Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center, helping clients adjust from in-patient to community status. Transition House's Director said word of the layoffs is already spreading.

"We're already receiving calls from folks who are in need of treatment and they're saying, you know, when we have to refer them to western Oklahoma or eastern Oklahoma 'But I can't get there. How do I get there?' Or if they're a single male, they're really, really limited. If these folks have no resources , which is commonly the case, there's no place to send them," said Transition House Director Bonnie Dunn.

Norman-area lawmakers think the Norman's Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center and the jobs can be saved if the legislature moves quickly to spend money from the Rainy Day Fund or from federal stimulus dollars.

But Representative Wallace Collins fears a sense of urgency is lacking. Once the employees are let go, it will be difficult to get them back, even if new money becomes available. Society will still have to pay for the clients who end up in jail or in prison, Rep. Collins said.

"This is not like a light bulb you can turn off and on," Rep. Collins said.

Agency spokesman Jeff Dismukes said it's not known exactly how many total employees will be laid off.