The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is preparing for $75 million in cuts. If these cuts go into effect, we're told 189,000 Oklahomans will lose services, thousands more will lose their jobs, prisons and hospitals will fill up and people will die.
"We will have to eliminate every outpatient service available in the state of Oklahoma," said Commissioner Terri White. "December 1st we do not have enough money to pay all of our bills. We are $6 million short. By January 1st we are $17 million short. By February 1st we are $30 million short."
Board member Brian Bush added, "There's no fat to trim. There are no administrative staff members that can be laid off."
The agency is in this position because state lawmakers have not been able to agree on a plan to fill a $215 million budget hole created when they passed an unconstitutional tobacco tax. If there's no deal by Dec. 1, the agency will have to eliminate outpatient services to have enough money to care for those who require inpatient treatment.
"It's what keeps them from ending up in an emergency room. It's what keeps them from ending up in the back of a police car, the inside of a jail cell, the inside of a prison cell," White said.
Steve Buck of the Office of Juvenile Affairs added, "We will lose lives if we cut outpatient services. There will be people who take their lives and that's a tragedy."
Mental health advocates say without treatment, more and more Oklahomans will wind up in the criminal justice system, in the hospital, homeless or dead.
“It affects education. It affects law enforcement. It affects courts. It affects our economy,” said Joy Sloan of Green Country Behavioral Health Services. “There will be total devastation if the legislature fails to act."
No one from the governor’s office or the offices of the House Speaker or the Senate President Pro Tem responded to our request for a comment. House minority leader Scott Inman (D) released a statement saying the sticking point in budget talks continues to be how much to tax oil and natural gas production.