Oklahoma mental health officials issue furloughs because of budget cuts

Friday, May 17th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services on Thursday announced it would furlough employees for three days in the next six weeks because cuts in state funding.

The mental health department is the first agency to furlough employees since it was announced Tuesday the budgets of state agencies will be slashed 16.8 percent, or a total of $127 million, in May and June because of falling tax collections,

Mental health commissioner Terry Cline ordered the furloughs for all but critical employees _ nurses, patient care assistants and food services workers.

Cline also called for reducing contracts with private providers in May and June.

The furloughs will affect 1,875 employees and will be staggered to minimize disruption in services.

``A cut of this size is painful and difficult,'' Cline said. ``Our earlier measures included freezing travel, hiring and purchasing to the fullest extent possible, but there's just no more money to be found in those areas.''

He said if additional cuts are imposed in June, the agency would have to put into place even more drastic measures.

``That would substantially impact client care,'' Cline said.

He said the furloughs and contract cutbacks would allow the agency to reach its required budget reduction of $5.7 million.

House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, said lawmakers have been told other state agencies may be forced to take similar action.

Dan Mahoney, a spokesman for Gov. Frank Keating, said the governor hopes each agency explores its options before taking action.

``We would always hope this does not hurt personnel. But if it gets down to that, we will let each agency make that decision,'' Mahoney said.

The Mental Health Department operates five community treatment centers in the state and contracts with another 14 private providers.

The state also operates two alcohol and drug treatment centers, Griffin Memorial Hospital in Norman and the forensics hospital in Vinita.

It also contracts for more than 60 substance abuse programs and 29 domestic violence and sexual assault programs.