Oklahoma's school safety commission could endorse mental health proposal at meeting
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
3/05/13 at 7:21 AM
The Oklahoma Commission on School Safety appears to be on the verge of calling for statewide teams to hunt for potentially violent mental patients who have gone off their medications and talk them back into treatment, but another evidence-based program for dealing with troubled people will probably remain restricted to Tulsa County.
Tulsa County's Community Outreach Psychiatric Emergency Services - COPES - is the state's only fully actualized 24/7 emergency crisis response unit in the state.
The free, confidential program is available to anyone in Tulsa County any time of the day. The program's team provides risk assessment and crisis support by phone and offers a mobile response component, especially when local law enforcement agencies ask for assistance in dealing with people in obvious mental health crises.
Mental Health Commissioner Terri White said a $4 million request for a network of 24/7 crisis response teams for the state has been pending for several years.
The crisis response teams are part of the Mental Health Department's $96 million "Smart on Crime" program, which remains mostly unfunded, although some progress has been made the past two years, White said.
While the 24/7 crisis intervention component of that program has gotten favorable attention from Gov. Mary Fallin and legislators, it is yet to receive money beyond the dedicated COPES program and a $1 million Urgent Care program in Oklahoma City that has crisis response among several potential duties when there is available staffing. The requested $4 million would fund 10 new two-person teams to deal with mental health crises, White said.
While the proposal wouldn't be enough to offer border-to-border state coverage, the teams would be stationed in those areas with enough demand to justify them, she said.
Round-the-clock crisis intervention is not only evidence-based but has proven to be effective in Oklahoma through the COPES program, White said.
"People call COPES when they're at the end of their rope, when they're seriously considering harming themselves or someone else, or when they're paralyzed by their fear, anxiety or life circumstances," said Gail Lapidus, chief executive officer of Family & Children's Services, the nonprofit agency that operates COPES. "Lives have been saved, tragedies have been averted because of the round-the-clock availability of professional, confidential psychiatric crisis care that our COPES team provides."
The $1.5 million-a-year program - which receives about 84 percent of its funding from the state - maintains two, two-member mobile teams days and evenings and one two-person mobile team on night shift, said Tina Wells, spokeswoman for Family & Children's Services.
The program has other employees answering a round-the-clock crisis line - (918) 744-4800.
Another idea to bolster the state's continuum of care for dealing with mental illness is likely to be pushed forward Tuesday.
The school safety commission will hold its final meeting at the state Capitol on Tuesday and appears likely to endorse a plan to create six three-person teams - one each for Tulsa, Oklahoma City and the four quadrants of the state - to find potentially violent mental health patients who have fallen out of treatment and try to get them re-engaged.
White has estimated the cost of that program at a little less than $1 million.
Michael Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, said COPES has been a successful program in Tulsa, and it needs more funding locally.
Expanding the program statewide is a good concept, but the success of such an effort would depend on how it is structured and whether it is part of an investment in the entire length of mental health services - from prevention to response.
"These mobile teams aren't just stand-alone (solutions)," Brose said. "This is not a problem and issue that we're able to put all our eggs in one basket. We need to go all along the continuum."
Oklahoma needs better training for school workers in how to recognize and respond to potentially troubled students and how to respond to crises before help can arrive, he said.
Such mental health "first aid" training for school personnel is another idea the commission is expected to endorse Tuesday.
Wells said there is more need for COPES services in Tulsa County than the program can provide.
"It will come as no surprise to you that demand for services outstrips supply," said Wells.
"Thus, our team doesn't provide a mobile response to every phone call we receive. Rather, we prioritize Tulsa Police Department requests for assistance on their most critical calls and calls from individuals who have no supports (of) their own."
Original Print Headline: School safety commission mulls mental health plans
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308