Lawmakers Allocate COVID Funds for Pediatric Mental Health | News

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma lawmakers plan to invest over $ 50 million in federal coronavirus aid and state funds to help the University of Oklahoma Health System build a new state-of-the-art pediatric mental health facility .

The $ 115.8 million behavioral health center will house 72 inpatient beds and include a neurodevelopment and autism unit along with intensive outpatient treatment. It will also contain space for young people in state custody, space for families to stay with their children, a two-story gym, outdoor respite spaces, conference areas and spaces for family resources.

Officials said state and federal funds, including $ 39.4 million allocated by lawmakers on Tuesday, will pay about 58 percent of the pediatric behavioral health center, which is slated to open by the end of 2025. the University Hospital Trust expects to contribute approximately $ 23 million and the hospital system expects to raise approximately $ 26 million through other partnerships.

Lawmakers decided to prioritize the allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds after the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased the need for pediatric behavioral health care. The children’s hospital reported a 31% increase in cases by October 2020. This had doubled by May 2021, OU Health officials said.

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 19 in Oklahoma, and Oklahoma is in the top 10 states for juvenile suicide rates.

The pandemic also highlighted the lack of treatment options for Oklahoma’s mentally ill youth.

State Senator Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, said at this time that Oklahoma must send its most mentally ill children out of state for treatment, which he said is “absolutely wrong.”

He said a 17-year-old was recently admitted to the OU emergency room for nearly two months when officials last week found him a more appropriate placement.

Last August, Thompson said he traveled with OU officials in Ohio to review behavioral health units in Columbus and Cincinnati. Ohio is a national leader in pediatric behavioral health treatment, she said.

“They have the people inside them that they need to make sure we can change behaviors, or at least help children achieve a better quality of life,” Thompson said. “They have the facilities where they can welcome children, treat them with great respect which is a kind of individual care”.

She said young people are sometimes violent, and the Ohio facility rooms are built in such a way that children can’t hurt themselves or anyone else, but can still participate in activities and education and receive attention from. they need.

Thompson said he wants to bring a similar model to Oklahoma because mental health is the # 1 issue right now and state leaders need to invest more resources where they are needed most, regardless of age.

Late last year, lawmakers also allocated an additional $ 7.5 million in ARPA funding to help kickstart the project, but Thompson said it took some time for OU to receive the pledged funds due. delays in another branch of government.

He said the OU structure will change the lives of young people and their families.

“They will be able to be close to their relatives,” Thompson said. “Their relatives will be able to come and go and spend time with them, and they will receive the mental health (treatment) they really need to lead a better quality of life.”

In a statement, OU Health said the project took two years of work.

“We have a vision of creating a world-class behavioral health center, and the legislator’s investment puts Oklahoma Children’s Hospital on track to completion,” the organization said, adding that it will take a public-private partnership to carry out the project come to fruition.

Currently, Oklahoma Children’s Hospital hosts more than 40 patients per month in acute medical beds that would be most appropriately placed in acute or residential psychiatric facilities. Most holds last for days at a time due to limited pediatric resources in the state, OU Health said.

“As Oklahoma’s only comprehensive children’s hospital, 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 meant that pediatric patients with behavioral health needs often went untreated or received insufficient care.”

The state investment will enable OU Health to “narrow the gap in the care of these at-risk children,” the medical system said.

OU Health has already begun the demolition of the Beilstein Tower to make room for the new treatment facility on the main campus near the Capitol.

State Representative Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City, said ARPA’s spending is “a rather large investment,” but the state has room for improvement when it comes to pediatric mental health care.

“I support everything we can do to expand mental health services, especially for children,” Munson said, noting that much of the state’s mental health treatment talk revolves around adults.

Munson said she thinks of families who don’t have the means to travel or leave work to care for a child who is being treated for a serious mental health problem in another state.

He said hopefully more early intervention will help correct behaviors.

“Adding behavioral health and making it closely (linked) to the hospital is important in terms of how we destigmatize mental health and behavioral health,” Munson said. “It’s part of the whole person. It’s not something anyone should be ashamed of. It’s part of health care.”

Janelle Stecklein covers Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI newspapers and websites. Join her at

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