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Oklahoma mental health services struggling with $20 million cuts

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is faced with a major budget crisis.

After finding a $20 million hole in next year’s budget, the department is forced to cut millions worth of services.

Today a public forum was held.  It was to get feedback on exactly what services will hit the chopping block.

One by one they talked while the Medical Advisory Committee listened.

Vurnita Long says, “I do not want my children to be a menace to society.”

Eric Ward says, “They went from honor roll student to making F`s. Now my kids are back honor roll students.”

They’re trying to convince them to help decision makers change their minds about cutting $20 million from mental and behavioral health rehabilitation programs.

Ward says, “It feels like they don’t care.”

It wasn’t too long ago, Erica Ward’s kids had severe behavioral issues. The program turned their lives around.

“It’s just like they’re different kids,” says Ward. “Being in the program it`s made it a lot easier.”

And then there’s Teahana, Jayahan and Jhnary. They’re just 8, 9 and 10-years-old. Their counselor “Mr. Tod” says they’re now on the path to a lifetime of success.

Jhnary says, “I like when he comes to help.”

Jayahan says, “He helps us!”

Tod Kelih says, “What is going to happen to these kids that don’t have counselors anymore. Are they going to be better? Are they going to be in trouble? Are they going to be in jail?”

But the department says the cuts have to be made. They aren’t eliminating any services just tightening up on the criteria for those who qualify.

Verna Foust with the Behavioral Health Advisory Council says, “I wish we could provide everything we need to everyone that needs it but the reality is there`s only so much money.”

Political consultant Toby Pedford isn’t buying that. He’s here hoping lawmakers will give this a second look.

“They start to believe that it’s their money and not the people’s money,” says Pedford. “A lot of times it seems like there’s a closed door but the truth of it is, these are people that answer to us.”

Kelih wants lawmakers to put themselves in the shoes of these kids, because if the budget cut passes he sees them losing hope.”

“Stop looking at the books and realize that these are real people and real children,” says Kelih.