OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma lawmakers plan to invest more than $ 50 million in federal aid for coronavirus and government funds to help the University of Oklahoma’s health care system build a new state-of-the-art pediatric mental health facility.
The $ 115.8 million behavioral health center will have 72 inpatient beds and will include a neurodevelopment and autism ward, along with intensive outpatient treatment. It will also include a place for young people in state detention, a place for families to stay with their children, a two-story gym, outdoor seating, conference areas and family space.
Officials said state and federal funds, including $ 39.4 million set aside by lawmakers on Tuesday, will pay for about 58 percent of the pediatric behavioral health center, which is due to open by the end of 2025. The body and trust university hospitals plan to raise about $ 23 million, and the hospital system plans to raise about $ 26 million through other partnerships.
Lawmakers have decided to prioritize the allocation of funds under the U.S. Rescue Plan Act after the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased the need for pediatric behavioral health care. The children’s hospital reports a 31% increase in cases by October 2020. This has doubled by May 2021, OU Health officials said.
Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in Oklahoma for young people aged 10-19, and Oklahoma is among the top 10 states in terms of young suicides.
The pandemic also revealed the lack of treatment options for the most mentally ill young people in Oklahoma.
U.S. Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, said right now that Oklahoma must send its worst mentally ill children out of state care, which he said was “absolutely wrong.”
He said a 17-year-old had recently been placed in the OU’s emergency department for almost two months when his staff found a more suitable place last week.
Last August, Thompson said he traveled with OU staff to Ohio to examine the behavioral health departments in Columbus and Cincinnati. Ohio is a national leader in pediatric behavioral health care, he said.
“They have the people they need to have to make sure we can change behavior, or at least help children get a better quality of life,” Thompson said. “They have facilities where they can bring children, treat them with great respect, which is a kind of one-on-one care.”
He said youths are sometimes violent, and rooms at facilities in Ohio are built in such a way that children cannot hurt themselves or anyone else, but can still participate in activities and education and receive the attention they need.
Thompson said he wants to bring a similar model to Oklahoma because mental health is the number one issue right now, and state leaders need to invest more resources where they are most needed, regardless of age.
At the end of last year, lawmakers also set aside an additional $ 7.5 million from ARPA to help launch the project, but Thompson said it took time for the OU to receive the promised funds due to delays in another branch of government.
He said the OU facility would be “life-changing” for young people and their families.
“They will be able to stay close to their relatives,” Thompson said. “Their relatives will be able to go in and out and spend time with them and get the mental health (treatment) they really need to lead a better quality of life.”
In a statement, OU Health said the project has been under development for two years.
“We have a vision for a world-class behavioral health center, and an investment by the legislature puts the Oklahoma Children’s Hospital on the road to completion,” the organization said, adding that a public-private partnership will be needed to make the project a reality.
Oklahoma Children’s Hospital currently holds more than 40 patients a month in emergency medical beds, which would be more appropriate in acute or residential psychiatric facilities. Most of the detentions are for days on end due to limited pediatric resources in the state, OU Health said.
“As the only comprehensive children’s hospital in Oklahoma, Oklahoma Children’s Hospital is at the forefront of caring for the majority of children with behavioral health problems in the state,” said OU Health. “Strict regulatory guidelines and limited space have led pediatric patients with behavioral health needs to often go untreated or receive inadequate treatment.
The state investment will allow OU Health to “reduce the gap in the care of these children at risk,” the medical system said.
OU Health has already begun demolishing the Beilstein Tower to make way for a new facility on its main campus near the state’s Capitol.
State Representative Cindy Manson, D-Oklahoma City, said the cost of ARPA is “quite a big investment”, but the state has something to improve when it comes to pediatric mental health care.
“I support everything we can do to expand mental health services, especially for children,” Manson said, noting that much of the talk of mental health treatment in the state revolves around adults.
Manson said he was thinking of families who do not have the means to travel or leave their jobs to care for a child who is being treated for a serious mental health problem in another state.
She said increased early intervention would help correct the behavior.
“Adding behavioral health and keeping it close to the hospital is important in how we destigmatize mental health and behavioral health,” Manson said. “It’s part of the whole person. It is not something to be ashamed of. It’s part of healthcare. “
Janelle Staclein covers the Oklahoma State House for CNHI newspapers and websites. Contact her at [email protected]