The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services began delivering the bad news to providers on Tuesday.
Meeting behind closed doors at the agency’s headquarters Tuesday afternoon, providers were told how the department plans to shed 23 percent of its budget — $75 million — beginning Dec. 1.
Those plans will be made public at a 1 p.m. Wednesday news conference.
“Our hope is that a solution is found in time to keep these cuts from happening,” ODMHSAS Commissioner Terri White said in a written statement. “At the same time, to allow plans to move forward without notifying all impacted would be unfair and irresponsible.
“These cuts are unbearable and will decimate our state’s behavioral health care system. Yet, they are the only choices the agency has left to keep from completely eliminating services for Oklahoma’s most acutely ill.”
The ODMHSAS is taking the biggest hit in a $215 million budget crisis triggered by a successful legal challenge to a $1.50-per-pack cigarette “fee” imposed during the Legislature’s regular session.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the process by which the levy was adopted, not the levy itself, violated the state constitution.
Revenue from the fee was directed primarily to three state agencies — the ODMHSAS, the Department of Human Services and the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority, which administers the state’s Medicaid program. General revenue that had gone to those agencies was then shifted to other areas of state government.
The ODMHSAS is the smallest of the three.
Gov. Mary Fallin called the Legislature into special session on Sept. 25 to address the issue, but the House recessed within minutes, followed soon after by the Senate. Revenue bills must originate in the House.
Stymied lawmakers have continued to discuss the problem without reaching an agreement on a budget that would fetch the 76 votes needed in the 101-member House.
Legislators asked the Fallin administration to redistribute appropriations to spread the $215 million shortfall across all agencies. However, they were told that would be illegal.
Tuesday’s activity occurred one day after the state Health Department announced $3 million in cuts, including the cancellation of a $444,000 contract with the Parent Child Center of Tulsa.
The contract, which represents about 10 percent of the nonprofit agency’s annual revenue, could affect 10 employees, said Interim Executive Director Ashleigh Kraft.
Kraft said the contract funded a Parents as Teachers program that sent “visitors” into homes that had indicators of potential child abuse. The visitors worked with parents in creating constructive learning environments.
She said the program is one of the few that works with families before child abuse occurs and is considered central to the agency’s mission.
But, Kraft said, “if we can’t find sustainable funds, it will go away.”