The chairmen of the Oklahoma Legislative Mental Health Caucus encouraged their colleagues to continue the momentum on mental health and substance abuse issues and applauded the ongoing bipartisan collaboration in this area as there is an opportunity for significant legislation in 2023 success.
The bipartisan, bicameral caucus launched in 2021 to raise the profile of addressing Oklahoma’s mental health and substance abuse crisis and facilitate discussion among lawmakers.
Now in its third year, it is co-chaired by Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa, and Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa.
“Too many Oklahomans face barriers to accessing life-saving mental health services,” said Gavin, whose district includes western Gavin County.
“The Legislature has made tremendous progress in removing many barriers, but more work remains to be done. By continuing Oklahoma’s recent momentum in this year’s legislative session, we can implement some of the most meaningful reforms in mental health care , not only in the history of our state, but for any state in the country.”
Despite record demand, fewer mental health professionals than ever are entering the state’s workforce.
Oklahoma higher education institutions will award just 2,029 degrees related to mental health professions in 2021, a 10-year low, according to a report released last year by the Office of Fiscal Transparency Legislation.
According to Mental Health America, an estimated 752,000 (more than one in four) Oklahoma adults have a mental illness and 474,000 have a substance use disorder.
The state has the sixth-highest suicide rate in the nation, and the health system has seen records of children with suicidal thoughts using emergency rooms.
The caucus chairs emphasized the importance of addressing the shortage of behavioral health professionals in Oklahoma through workforce development funding, public-private partnerships, incentives, and recruitment strategies.
Nearly 100 bills related to mental health and substance abuse remain in force before the April 13 deadline to pass bills in committees in the opposing House, including efforts to help more Oklahomans get access to life-saving care.
Other remaining opportunities at this meeting include improving access to therapists and other clinicians in insurance networks, fostering collaboration between primary care physicians and behavioral health specialists, and funding mental health and criminal justice diversion programs under state Question 781 .
The legislative proposals come after the Legislature passed America’s Rescue Act funding, budget increases for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), and bipartisan legislative initiatives to advance telehealth, among other issues The investments followed by access and mental health equality have been raised in recent years.
The caucus meets monthly and is a forum for lawmakers to discuss bipartisan solutions to the mental health and addiction challenges facing Oklahoma. Members benefit from data and best practices shared by the nonpartisan policy research group the Healthy Minds Policy Initiative, as well as consultation from ODMHSAS and other experts.
In the two months leading up to the 2023 session, the Oklahoma Legislative Mental Health Caucus has had lively discussions on mental health issues and the participation of mental health providers in the state’s health information exchange. Upcoming conference will focus on veterans’ mental health.