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Tulsa police: Lack of mental health beds in Tulsa a public health crisis

Mental Health
Posted at 9:42 PM, Jun 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-11 08:35:53-04

TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma law requires local police departments to transport mental health patients when needed. Sometimes, those patients must be taken out of town.

If it's within a certain number of miles, it's done while the officers are on duty which takes them away from responding to 9-1-1 calls.

Tulsa Police Captain, Shellie Seibert has been dealing with mental health patients for a long time. She says her department has been advocating for private transport companies to take care of patients for years.

"I think that most people would be surprised that we agree that we shouldn't be doing these types of things, so there is a big push to have civilians come in and take care of mental health calls," says Seibert.

A few months back, the city of Tulsa applied for and received a federal transportation grant to allow for private mental health transports.

That grant recently expired and so TPD is back to doing these transports.

Thankfully, other organizations like the Crisis Care Center and Tulsa Center for Behavioral Health are stepping up to help.

"All of our protective custodies go to our Crisis Care Center unless someone has private insurance. Because we have streamlined that, they have increased what's called their respite chairs there and bed space, and now there is a streamline to TCBH," says Seibert.

Prior to this, Seibert says the city had lost a lot of mental health beds after TCBH closed down an entire wing. St. John also did away with their mental health unit, and Shadow Mountain is no longer in operation. HIllcrest Medical Center recently did away with their psych unit as well.

"It's the bed space that is shrinking, and that's why the Crisis Care Center stepped up to give more respite chairs," says Seibert.

Chris Perry works for the Crisis Care Center at Family & Children's Services. He tells 2 News that last December, they opened up a sallyport, which is a dedicated area for law enforcement to bring individuals that are in crisis.

The Crisis Care Center has expanded its space from 14 recliners to 20, and its beds from 16 to 20.

This allows them to keep in-house more mental health patients brought in by law enforcement, and hopefully decrease the number of out-of-town transports by police

"There obviously needs to be more psychiatric beds, but there also needs to be an increase in urgent cares. These prevent unnecessary hospitalizations, and I think the biggest part is there needs to be a concerted effort to really make sure people follow up in outpatient, instead of only addressing their mental health needs through crisis type emergency services," says Perry.

Right now, Perry says they get about 10-15 drop-offs a day from surrounding law enforcement agencies and that’s just the start.

"Tulsa Police Department in and of themselves drops off 150-250 people a month," says Perry.

Senate Bill 3 which was approved by both the House and the Senate in April, and signed by the Governor requires law enforcement to only have to transfer mental health patients within a 30-mile radius of the city. Anything further than that is done by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Seibert and Perry say that bringing awareness to the mental health issue here in our state and having people go to our state legislators and champion mental health would make a difference. Also, putting more funding towards the mental health sector.

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