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Point of View: Innovative collaboration to provide mental health services at risk

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Charles Danley
Charles Danley

Oklahoma is known for many things, including raising some of the finest beef and wheat in the country, if not the world. But what you might be surprised to know is that Oklahoma also is a leader in the nation when it comes to innovative collaborations between law enforcement and mental health providers. However, that wasn’t always the case.

For years, Oklahoma was like many other states. Lack of coordination between police officers and health care providers resulted in frustration over jurisdiction issues, inefficient use of precious staff resources and ultimately a diminished capacity to deliver quality mental health care.

It used to be that a police officer responding to a mental health crisis or a drug overdose could expect to spend up to 12 hours transporting an individual to the emergency room and staying with them until the situation was resolved. That meant the officer was essentially pulled out of the community for an entire shift, putting more pressure on other officers and compromising public safety. Furthermore, the ER isn't the ideal place to provide comprehensive mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

All of that changed in 2014 when a Congress passed The Excellence in Mental Health Act, which established Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) demonstration projects in eight states, including Oklahoma. Since launching in 2017, Oklahoma's three CCBHCs have dramatically improved partnerships with criminal justice agencies to implement innovative interventions and increase access to community-based addiction and mental health care, particularly opioid addiction services.

Unfortunately, the CCBHC demonstration funding is scheduled to expire June 30. Unless Congress acts to restore and extend the funding for two more years, much of the progress we have made in Oklahoma could be lost. We cannot let this happen — too many lives are at stake.

Thanks to CCBHC funding, Oklahoma is on the cutting edge nationwide when it comes to leveraging mobile technology. Today, police officers responding to a mental health or addiction crisis use handheld tablets and video conferencing capabilities to quickly connect individuals in need with a clinician. Officers then transport individuals to a CCBHC where they can immediately begin treatment. From beginning to end, this typically takes less than an hour.

For individuals experiencing a true mental health crisis, we can now provide care in the least restrictive — and most effective — environment possible. This wasn't always the case. In 2015, 1,115 people were admitted for inpatient treatment, usually a five-day stay. We simply did not have the system in place to provide alternatives. But that has changed. In the past year, CCBHC funding has enabled us to provide more appropriate care and avoid inpatient admissions for all but 15 individuals in the area served by Grand Lake Mental Health Center. Not only does this generate a tremendous cost saving, but it's better for the people we serve.

Oklahoma’s mental health care system is stronger today than ever. CCBHCs in Oklahoma have hired new addiction-focused clinicians; expanded addiction services, including medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction; and reduced patient wait times. They have added other staff, including psychiatrists, therapists, telehealth clinicians and treatment providers, which enhances both the health and economic well-being of our communities. In turn, CCBHCs have served more than 32,000 individuals in Oklahoma with increased mental health services, substance use disorder screenings and services, health care screenings and care coordination with primary care providers.

But without the federal CCBHC funding, we will once again see overcrowded jails, longer ER wait times and police officers stretched thin.

Time is of the essence. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, is a co-sponsor of the bipartisan bill to extend funding. Six law enforcement leaders in Oklahoma recently sent letters to either Sen. James Lankford or Sen. Jim Inhofe urging them to support the recently introduced Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act (S. 824/H.R. 1767).

For the first time, law enforcement and mental health providers are truly working together — we are a powerful and effective team making our communities safer and healthier and saving Oklahoma taxpayers millions of dollars. It would be a tragedy to let this important work end.

Danley is CEO of Grand Lake Mental Health Center, which serves 13 counties in Oklahoma. Willyard is assistant police chief for the Pryor Creek Police Department.

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<strong>James Willyard</strong>

James Willyard

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-4262d3da2f68036c2bfa7987dd8c9012.jpg" alt="Photo - James Willyard " title=" James Willyard "><figcaption> James Willyard </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-5bc36f9023bf121e9210e96d67b9061d.jpg" alt="Photo - Charles Danley " title=" Charles Danley "><figcaption> Charles Danley </figcaption></figure>
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