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Residents hear new details on MAPS 4 mental health proposal at town hall

Daily Oklahoman - 7/30/2019

Jul. 30--New details about what a mental health package would look like if included in MAPS 4 were discussed Monday night during Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert's mental health town hall.

Dozens gathered at NorthCare, a mental health treatment facility in Oklahoma City, to learn more details about the proposal and to hear from a panel of service providers on why this type of package is needed.

The plan is to ask the Oklahoma City City Council to give an undisclosed amount to fund a crisis center, a restoration center and 30 transitional housing units for those coming out of treatment or jail.

Blumert said each section of the plan will serve a different purpose, but ultimately lead to the same goal: Keep those with mental illness and addictions out of the county jail.

"Nearly one out of five Oklahoma County residents needs mental health treatment," Blumert said. "And more than four out of five Oklahoma County residents is not receiving the treatment they need. That's a huge number.

"This could be a safety net for people who don't need to be taken to jail, but really need treatment and support."

Crisis centers are currently restricted to only having 16 beds per facility, so there is not enough space for the amount of people suffering acute mental health crises. Stays in these facilities range from one to three days, said panelist Randy Tate, who works at NorthCare.

The idea for a restoration center is based off of a similar concept in San Antonio, where patients can receive several types of services, including detox, substance abuse treatment, counseling, medications and more.

And Blumert said funding 30 transitional housing units will keep those who are released from jail or another treatment facility from having nowhere to go and ending up homeless.

Panelist Natasha Webb is a private mental health practitioner who used to work in the county jail and said she often struggles to find a place to take someone experiencing an acute crisis. She believes this proposal would provide options.

"I could have a real phone number for a real person that can help me," Webb said.

Panelist Tara Hardin supervises mental health in the jail for the county sheriff's office and said officers have similar concerns of not knowing where to place someone who is suffering.

"We have to change our mindset," Hardin said. "We have to change the way we address mental illness. The criminal justice system is not the place for them."

But attendees focused in on a point of concern -- even if the city provides the funding to build these types of facilities, how will struggling state, private and non-profit service providers have the money to be able to run them?

Blumert said she has been working to find solutions, which will likely include a mix of lobbying the state Legislature for more mental health funding, private donations, federal dollars and multiple service providers participating.

Suggestions and ideas brought up during the town hall will be used to tweak the final plan and funding amounts, which won't be unveiled to the public until the Aug. 6 city council meeting.

"I wanted to make sure that this proposal involved the entire mental health and addiction community," Blumert said. "The community organizing aspect to it is really, really important to me because this issue affects everyone."

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