Mental health cuts driving community-based clients to crisis centers

Thursday, April 17th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Costlier crisis centers are seeing more clients of community-based mental health programs because of budget cuts, officials said.

``We've seen a dramatic increase in the use of our crisis services,'' Mental Health Commissioner Terry Cline told the House Appropriation and Budget Subcommittee on Health and Social Services.

``I am attributing it to a decrease in community-based services as a result of a 7.85 percent reduction, due to the state budget shortfall. We started to shrink those outpatient services as a result of that reduction.''

Crisis centers are located in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Muskogee, Clinton and Claremore, said Pam McKeown, a department spokeswoman.

The Tulsa Center for Behavioral Health saw a 49 percent increase in clients, from 386 in October to 576 in March, said director Edna Meziere.

A center in Oklahoma City last year saw an average of 680 clients a month, a figure that rose to 820 clients a month, Cline said.

Reducing community-based services over the long-term is counterproductive because it drives clients into services, such as the crisis centers, that cost more money, he said in a story from the Tulsa World's Capitol bureau.

Crisis centers provide intensive services including stabilization, Cline said. Some clients are referred to inpatient hospital settings while others may be referred to a community-based mental health center.

The centers are also seeing a number of new clients, he said.

``It tells us that there are people who we are not reaching at all,'' Cline said. ``We are not providing easy enough access in the community. They are having the first-time encounter with our system at that crisis level, which is the most expensive level.''

Revenue shortfalls led officials to cut the state mental health budget by $11.3 million this fiscal year, Cline said. About 600 people are on a waiting list for substance abuse services.

The department's substance abuse budget is down $1.5 million, which is about 7.5 percent of the overall substance abuse budget, he said.

Domestic violence programs are also providing a lower level of service, Cline said.