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State Budget Cuts Affecting Emergency Rooms

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Officials with OU Medical Center's Level I Trauma Center said the emergency room has seen an increase in traffic since the state has cut about $20 million out of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services' budget. Officials with OU Medical Center's Level I Trauma Center said the emergency room has seen an increase in traffic since the state has cut about $20 million out of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services' budget.
Mental health patients and substance abuse users are more likely to end up repeatedly in the ER because much of the rehabilitation programs are being cut or reduced. Mental health patients and substance abuse users are more likely to end up repeatedly in the ER because much of the rehabilitation programs are being cut or reduced.

By Colleen Chen, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has been forced to make nearly $20 million in budget cuts so far. The cuts have affected programs and caused the department to reduce the number of beds at substance abuse service and mental health service centers. Those cuts are now having an affect on emergency room traffic.

"People become sicker and sicker because people don't have the opportunity for early intervention. The sicker they get the more they need services. Where do they end up? The emergency room," said Steven Buck with ODMHSAS.

The state's only Level I trauma unit is at OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City. Dr. Roxie Albrecht is the surgeon who runs the trauma department. She said half of the people her staff now has to treat have major trauma and minor trauma injuries that are related to drugs or alcohol.

"We're going to see these patients back more frequently," Albrecht said.

That's because she used to be able to send patients screened as having a drug or alcohol problem to get help at substance abuse centers, but cuts to centers has created a long waiting list.

"We are already having a problem getting our patients in," Albrecht said.

Steven Buck said so far ODMHSAS has cut about 80 beds at substance abuse help centers.

"I feel helplessness because, you know, these people are just going to come back," Albrecht said.

Albrecht added the issue impacts every person who lives in the state.

"You don't know when it's going to happen or who it's going to happen to. These people who aren't getting help could be that drunk driver that hits you or a loved one. It's someone that we could have gotten help," she said.

Albrecht said she believes prevention is key, and that being able to impact substance abusers early decreases the amount of patients in the hospital, decreases injuries and decreases deaths. The fact more substance abusers are coming through the doors of the trauma center is frustrating to staff. The time spent on repeat offenders is time that could be spent focusing on general surgery and other patients.

"These cuts are a loss for society. There is no other Level I facility in the city or in this part of the state that can care for critically injured patients," Albrecht said. "If we have a number of alcohol related patients in this emergency department we are full to the gills. We have no more room and some critically injured patient comes in and needs our care."

Albrecht said her unit does not want to be in that situation, but the cuts to programs at ODMHSAS are making it a reality.

"We're going to be more and more busy, and we're going to lose opportunities and possibly lose lives. That's a loss for society. Prevention is the way to go," Albrecht said.

ODMHSAS officials said up to 12 percent more cuts could be in the future.

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