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Mother concerned about options for missing son

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Susan Rollins' son is missing again from a mental health center. And she's not sure what to do with him if he turns up.

Ari Ben Etelman, 29, needs high-security mental care. But under a state law passed last year, such patients will go to private, community-based facilities like the one Etelman fled Friday in Tulsa.

"Obviously, he needs to be somewhere with more supervision," Rollins said Monday. "But where?"

Etelman has run off many times in the past eight years and has always come back.

His family was relieved in December when a judge ordered him to Eastern State Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Vinita where for the first time "he was getting better," Rollins said.

But under the new guidelines, the majority of Eastern State patients will no longer qualify for care at state-run hospitals by July.

Eastern State discharged Etelman on April 13. He suffered a breakdown four days later, but under the new guidelines, his condition was not deemed serious enough to return to Eastern State. He was sent to Parkside Hospital in Tulsa.

"Parkside is a well-intentioned place," Rollins said. "I just think they are trying to handle cases that they are not prepared to handle. My son was one of them."

Parkside officials cannot comment on the case because of patient confidentiality, officials said. But state authorities said Parkside provides the same level of care as Eastern State.

"The certification process is the same and the standards are the same," said John Hudgens, director of community-based services for the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

He said Eastern State has not released any patient prematurely as part of the hospital's effort to scale back.

"No one is being kicked out," he said. "No one has to leave before their treatment is complete."

Rollins said that the last time her son disappeared, in the fall, he was gone for two months, then showed up with no explanation of where he had been.

"If we find my son again, he's going to need a safe place where he can get help," Rollins said. "My question is, why can't the state of Oklahoma provide that kind of place?"
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