Advisory committee approves rule change that would cut off services to at-risk children

An advisory committee voted in favor of allowing changes to who can receive certain behavioral rehabilitative services in an effort to save the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, or ODMHSAS, $20 million. The vote came after passionate pleas from dozens of parents, patients and rehabilitative services professionals not to approve the rule change.

The rule change would cut off access to many children who can currently receive behavioral rehabilitative services.

Many of the people who spoke at Wednesday afternoon's meeting of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority's Medical Advisory Board asked board members to slow down the rule change process and reconsider other ways to make up for budget shortfalls. The ODMHSAS says it has to act quickly or risk worse cuts. "I think it is incredibly important that we start to see this savings now or we're going to be in a worse situation a few months down the road," said ODMHSAS Deputy Commissioner Carrie Slatton-Hodges, "Where we won't even be able to keep the protected classes in rehab."

Slatton-Hodges said listening to parents and providers today she did think of a way to bring back some of the services, but even that would be contingent on the legislature providing more money for mental health. "If we could get additional dollars in the future there is a service, a skills building we could look at," Slatton-Hodges told Fox 25 News.

Eight members of the board voted against advancing the rule change. One of those members was Dr. Wade Hamil who represents the Oklahoma Psychological Association on the board. "This impacts mental health in the state of Oklahoma and protected classes," he said.

During the meeting discussion Dr. Hamil questioned the ODMHSAS about whether the rule change was drafted appropriately and if it was legally allowable. He told Fox 25 he is concerned the rule might be a violation of federal laws protecting students rights and could lead to discrimination against some protected classes.

"The Department of Mental Health in its conflict of interest it has an accrediting body, has the gatekeeper and now as the rule maker for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority is prioritizing substance about services over the mental health needs of protected classes of children and adults," Dr. Hamil told Fox 25.

Some board members expressed concerns about approving the rule change, which now goes to the Health Care Authority's board for final approval. Those board members asked the concerned members of the audience to take their passion to the legislature to make sure lawmakers make funding mental health a priority next year or the programs could face deeper cuts.

Fox 25 spoke to some mental health providers who say they are not done fighting the rule change and didn't rule out the possibility the state could be forced to defend itself in federal court if the rule change does violate student rights.