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A lot more kids are calling Tulsa crisis hotlines. COPES explains 72% increase: 'It's not a bad thing'

Calls by children to Tulsa crisis hot lines have increased dramatically since 2017, a program official said.

Amanda Bradley, program director for Community Outreach Psychiatric Emergency Services, attributed the 72% increase in calls by children over a two-year period in large part to new a marketing campaign by the agency and an increased willingness by children to talk about issues.

The 72% increase meant COPES answered 1,886 calls in fiscal 2019, prompting a need for more call takers and mobile assessors, Bradley said.

COPES provides crisis intervention support via state and national hotlines in addition to its own telephone service.

Bradley talked about the upswing in crisis hot line calls during a health care forum Tuesday on suicide hosted by the Tulsa Regional Chamber.

“It’s not a bad thing, it’s really a great thing,” she said.

Bradley attributed the upswing in calls to a recently completed advertising campaign that included billboards and bus ads.

“I think with knowledge and education it creates this flow of people being able to reach out and ask for help,” she said.

COPES provides immediate telephone and/or mobile assessment, evaluation, crisis intervention, stabilization and links to community resources.

As the number of calls has increased, so has their nature in terms of severity.

In the past, COPES would field a lot of calls from juveniles who were anxious or felt overwhelmed and just needed someone to talk to, Bradley said.

“Those aren’t the kind of calls we are getting very often anymore,” she said. “It’s truly people who are contemplating ending their lives right there on that day and are just reaching out for someone somewhere.”

Children are also opening up more than young callers did in the past, Bradley said.

“Kids are reaching out for help more so for themselves or for their friends,” she said. “They are not as afraid to ask for assistance.”

“Often talking to a stranger is best for some youths because they don’t have to burden a parent or worry about someone at school talking about them,” Bradley said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a report released this month found that suicide rates continue to rise among people ages 10 to 24. Rates have increased every year for that age group since 2007.

Suicide rates nationally among individuals ages 10 to 24 increased 56% between 2007 and 2017, according to the CDC.

For persons aged 10 to 14, suicide rates increased from 2007 to 2017 while homicide rates declined.

The suicide rate in 2017 was more than twice the homicide rate, or 2.5 suicides per 100,000 persons compared to 0.9 homicides.

Bradley said she has found that schools are becoming more receptive to COPES providing suicide prevention training and other services.

“More people are willing to open their doors and let us come in and have a conversation about what is going on and give them some tools to be able to work with people,” Bradley said.

The increase in calls has caused more pressure on call takers and other staff, she said.

COPES has added more screeners to handle the added call load. Now it needs to hire more staff to provide mobile assessments, Bradley said.

“What’s happening right now is they have to wait longer for us to get to their locations,” Bradley said.

The COPES hotline, which is answered around the clock, is 918-744-4800.

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State higher education funding cuts have pushed costs to students and worsened inequality, national report says

Years of devastating funding cuts for higher education have led to significant increases in college tuition and a bigger burden on students to foot the bill, according to a national report released Thursday.

The report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found overall state funding for all public two-year and four-year colleges in the country last year was more than $6.6 billion below what it was before the Great Recession took hold a decade earlier, after adjusting for inflation.

States also paid an average of 13% less per college student between 2008 and 2018. Per-pupil funding in Oklahoma decreased by about $3,500 during that time — a 36% decline. Only five other states dropped by more than 30%.

Colleges responded to the funding cuts by increasing tuition, which remains much higher than prerecession in most states. The average annual published tuition rose by 37% nationwide and 44% in Oklahoma, according to the report.

Higher tuition on top of other expenses such as housing and textbooks deters students from attending college and makes it harder to graduate, said Michael Mitchell, lead author of the report and senior director for equity and inclusion at the Center on Budget Policy Priorities, a national research and policy institute.

“As state funding has declined and tuition has risen, students and/or their families have had to shoulder a larger share of the financial burden,” Mitchell said, “and this burden is greatest for families of color and those with low incomes.”

The responsibility of paying for college shifted from states to students despite the financial struggles of numerous families grappling with stagnant and declining incomes.

In 2017, the average net price of a public four-year institution in Oklahoma accounted for 26% of a white family’s median household income, according to the report. For black households, the price was 41%. For Hispanics, it was 32%.

Students, especially those from minority and low-income backgrounds, are less likely to enroll due to costly tuition. Research shows college price increases result in enrollment loss.

Most of Oklahoma’s community colleges and universities have seen stagnant or declining enrollment in recent years, the Tulsa World previously reported.

Mitchell said increased tuition also causes problems for students already on campus.

“As costs rise, it may push a student to take a semester or two off to help save money, which means a longer time to graduation,” he said. “But there’s also a threat that those students never finish, and that’s a very precarious situation to be in. To go to college, to take out loans but not finish, it means you have the debt that you need to pay off, but you don’t have the credential to help you do that.”

Oklahoma lawmakers provided a $25.3 million increase, or about 3.3%, in funding for higher education during the latest legislative session.

Although that boost helps, it’s nowhere near enough to make up for a decade of drastic cuts. Oklahoma slashed more higher education funding than any other state between 2012 and 2017.

Rebecca Fine, education policy analyst with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said it’s easy to overlook the financial crisis facing colleges and universities due to the heightened focus on secondary education funding.

“Higher education in Oklahoma has been hit even harder than pre-K through 12th grade,” Fine said. “And just like pre-K through 12th, it’s going to take a really long time to fill those budget holes and get back to where we need to be.”

She believes investing in education is the most effective way a state can boost its economy. On average, states that have more workers with college degrees reportedly are more productive and have higher median wages.

However, only 25% of Oklahomans in 2017 earned a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 31% nationally, placing the state 44th in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Petitioners turn in more than 313,000 signatures to get Medicaid expansion question on 2020 ballot

OKLAHOMA CITY — Medicaid expansion supporters on Thursday delivered more than 313,000 signatures to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office in an effort to get the issue before voters.

The number was well above the nearly 178,000 required to get State Question 802 on the 2020 ballot.

Amber England, a spokeswoman for Yes on 802, said it was a record number of signatures, showing widespread support for the measure.

“From Guymon to Broken Bow and from Altus to Miami, this campaign has been everywhere, and we have been overwhelmed by the tremendous outpouring of support for Medicaid expansion across this state,” England said.

She said the issue is personal to every Oklahoman because every resident knows someone who needs access to care and is not getting it.

England said the Oklahoma Legislature, which declined to expand Medicaid, has “kicked the can down the road.”

Supporters included hospital administrators, patients, medical professionals, signature collectors and members of the clergy.

England said supporters canvassed festivals, neighborhoods and sporting events across the state to collect signatures.

“We are here to send a mandate that we are ready for Oklahomans to decide this issue at the ballot box,” England said, drawing applause from supporters at a Capitol news conference.

The measure, if approved, would provide care to 200,000 people and bring back $1 billion a year of Oklahoma’s tax dollars to invest in communities, provide care and create jobs, England said.

Since 2016, eight rural hospitals have declared bankruptcy and six have shut down, England said.

Ashton Gores is a medical student in Tulsa and Yes on 802 campaign volunteer.

She said she comes from a rural area and has worked in impoverished areas of large cities.

“I have seen firsthand exactly what the real life struggles are of Oklahomans who don’t have access to affordable care,” Gores said. “I have seen members of my own family and friends that had to rough it through broken bones and who had alarmingly high diabetic blood sugars. They just don’t go see the doctor because they can’t afford it.”

She said she has seen people forego care because it is too far away.

“You know, I think we don’t need to be making that choice between who needs it and who can pay for it,” Gores said. “I am not willing to make that choice.”

Families are struggling for basic access to health care and decide to put food on the table instead of getting lifesaving treatment, Gores said.

“Illness doesn’t care about a political party,” she said. “Illness doesn’t care what part of the state you live in. Illness doesn’t care how much money you have in your bank account.”

For Oklahomans who are only one accident or illness away from financial ruin, the coverage is vital, necessary and needed in a system that has been broken for too long, said the Rev. Shannon Fleck, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches.

Fleck called Medicaid expansion a human and moral issue.

“An individual’s life should never be a political debate,” Fleck said, drawing applause.

England said step one was getting to the ballot.

“We are not going to stop now,” she said. “Nothing is going to slow us down.”

On Thursday, supporters carried signs that read “Keep rural hospitals open,” and “Time’s up.”

As they carried the dozens of boxes containing signatures into the office, they chanted “Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.”

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Beyond the Sidelines: For the champion Tiger Pride of Coweta, the small-town band experience is all about 'family'

Whenever they take the field at the end of a contest, waiting alongside the other bands to hear the results, Coweta Tiger Pride members have a simple way of showing their bond.

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They join hands.

It’s one of the things, senior Kolby Cardwell has noticed, that sets them apart.

“Other bands usually stand with their arms at their sides,” said Cardwell, a clarinet player. “But we hold hands — because we are a family.”

That “family” mindset is a big reason, he added, that the Coweta marching band’s run of success has reached even greater heights this season.

In September, Tiger Pride earned a signature win for the program when it finished first at the Bands of America Regional Finals in Flagstaff, Arizona.

It will look to continue the momentum this Saturday, when it shoots for a 10th consecutive State 5A Marching Championship in Mustang.

Fresh off last week’s homecoming performance and busy preparing for Saturday, band members talked to the Tulsa World this week about this milestone season and why there’s no better place for a small-town marching band to be than Coweta.

The Arizona win was Coweta’s first in a Bands of America regional contest, in which it competes every other year.

It made the finals for the first time at its last BOA event — two years ago in Atlanta. Still, to pull off the win this year was unexpected, band officials said.

Coweta was one of the smaller schools in the contest, with a band of around 150 members. The runner-up band, from Nevada, was twice its size.

For the Tiger Pride, the result was just more proof that hard work — combined with the love and support of a community — can “pay off in a big way,” said Band Director Chris Koehn.

“That is always one of my favorite things — to see all the time and commitment that they put into it, everybody working together, and it paying off like this,” said Koehn, whose wife, Heather, junior band director, is the annual Tiger Pride show’s creative director.

Senior drum major Amber Rosemond said the band doesn’t mind being cast in the “little guy” role.

“It’s definitely motivation for us,” she said of taking on larger bands like those at the regional finals.

She and other band members recalled how the suspense mounted at the Arizona event.

As the final places were announced, counting down from 10th to first, they were sure after each they were next.

But when it didn’t come, they clasped each other’s hands more tightly, anticipation rising.

Finally, with second place settled, they knew only one option remained.

Junior Ian Brennan, a color guard member, remembers turning at that moment, when they realized they had won, and seeing “that literally every single guard girl right behind me was already crying. But we had to maintain that smile.”

The official word followed a few moments later, and then the flood of emotion released.

$38,000 in an hour and a half

Koehn, who’s been with the program since 2008, starting as assistant band director, said volunteers and donors deserve a lot of credit for its success.

He said the support — starting with dedicated band parents but extending to the community at large — has been “incredible.”

“We wouldn’t be as successful as we are for sure” without it, he said.

One of the grandest gestures came a few weeks ago, with the booster club’s annual pie auction.

Held in conjunction with the town’s Fall Festival in September, this year’s raised a record $38,000 in an hour and a half.

“It was twice as big as the usual amount,” Koehn said. “It’s a big deal anyway, but this was phenomenal. … It took a lot of the pressure off” in helping cover costs of the Arizona trip.

The band also enjoys the support of individuals, businesses and churches, who step up to meet various needs, Koehn said.

And don’t forget the voters, he added, who came out to support the bond package that built the new band building in 2016.

“That was big,” Koehn said. “We’d completely outgrown our old facility.”

This Saturday at Mustang marks the marching band’s last major performance of the season.

Pride members are primed to make it their best yet.

This year’s show, titled “Canyon’s Edge,” features Heather Koehn’s original work along with a mix of Lady Gaga, Radiohead and TLC, topped off with a “Climb Every Mountain” finale.

Since the first public performance in August, “watching the progression of it has been rewarding,” Chris Koehn said.

The busyness of marching season has left little opportunity to stop and think. But for seniors, the reality of what this Saturday means has begun to sink in.

Logan Dillon, alto sax player, said, “So many times during the season I’m so ready to get done with this. But then you realize you’re about to hang up your uniform and not pick it up again.”

“I think what’s hitting me the hardest,” added senior baritonist Ray Lenhart, “is I’ll go on to do band in college, but I’ll never find a program like Coweta where we have the support we do. You won’t find that connection again.”

“I don’t think there’s any town our size that just gives their band $38,000 at a fundraiser,” he said.

But while there are no more “next years” for seniors, Rosemond says they won’t approach Saturday any differently.

“I think what we all want the most,” she said, “is not so much to win state. We just want our best show. One last time.”

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