A plan to cut mental health care at Eastern State Hospital is under fire from the families of mental health patients. They worry that the services now provided at Eastern State won't be replaced when mandatory cuts at the hospital begin.
The hospital is the last stop for mental health care in northeastern Oklahoma. The hospital takes the extreme cases, but the institutional setting drives up costs to more than $200 a day per person. The legislature wants to cut costs by moving patients from Eastern State into less expensive community treatment centers. "These people will be running around in communities," said Eastern State nurse Diane Easton. "Most communities don't want the mentally ill, if they did, there wouldn't be a place like Eastern State."
At a listening session in Vinita on Tuesday, mental health workers and the families of patients got a chance to give their opinion of planned cuts at Eastern State. All who spoke said community treatment centers can't handle the load or manage the potential risk. "We're talking about secure beds," said parent Mary Taddiken. "How do you get secure beds, beds that will keep people secure when they are psychotic and need to be kept secure? Most general hospitals are not prepared for that kind of thing."
Eastern State now serves 21 counties of eastern Oklahoma. Its work will be redirected to seven regional treatment centers. The department of mental health will manage the transition. "There are some advantages to moving quickly, but certainly we want those to be balanced by prudence and not move too quickly before things are in place," said department spokesman John Hudgens.
The only thing certain about the timeline is that the downsizing will be complete by January 2001. Mental health advocates hope the safety net that now exists at Eastern State can be replaced by community centers by that deadline. The state expects to save $6,000,000 a year by moving mental health patients out of Eastern State. Some people at Tuesday's meeting predict the savings will cost the lives of patients who won't get the treatment they need.