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State's Former Mental Health Commissioner Tells Providers to Make Their Needs Known to Lawmakers

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With a spike in mental health needs expected due to the coronavirus pandemic, Oklahoma’s former mental health commissioner encouraged providers on Thursday to push state officials for increased resources.

"No longer can we allow policies or policy makers to continue to try to punish the addiction, homelessness or mental illness out of people who belong in treatment and housing as opposed to the back of a police care, the inside of a jail cell or the inside of a prison cell," said Mental Health Association Oklahoma CEO Terri White.

White said one initiative that must move forward is establishing community response teams in all 77 Oklahoma counties. That means recruiting mental health professionals who can handle those crisis situations instead of police alone.

"A mental health crisis deserves a mental health response. We must do everything in our power to make mental health a cornerstone within our communities’ emergency response," White said.

In her welcome address for the 26th annual Zarrow Mental Health Symposium, White also said mental health and addiction treatment funding must be prioritized despite a tough budget year and that providers need lawmakers to support insurance parity and fully fund Medicaid expansion.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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