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Ruling on 'cigarette fee' a blow to mental health providers

(KOKH/FILE)

It's a victory for some, but through the cloud of cigarette smoke is a community in crisis.

"Having a $75 million cut to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services would be absolutely devastating to our system,” said Summer King, clinical director at HOPE Community Services, Inc.

It's a system made up of adults, children, entire families - some struggling with addiction, others living in sheer poverty.

"In this last year, we provided over a million dollars of unfunded services that we will never get paid for,” King said.

HOPE is one of many mental health providers in Oklahoma almost entirely reliant on state funding. Funding that is diminished after a tobacco fee was ruled unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court Thursday.

Of the $215 million that would've been generated by the 'cigarette fee' overturned by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, $75 million would have gone to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, $70 million to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and $69 million to the Department of Human Services. Facilities like HOPE depend on all three.

"With these cuts, it would be really devastating,” said King. “We would have to turn people away from services that could essentially be life or death.”

“I think worst case scenario, we could close,” said Randy Tate, Chief Executive Officer at NorthCare. “Best case scenario, we're probably looking at turning people away."

NorthCare is a nonprofit organization specializing in mental illness, trauma, and addiction. Tate says for them no funding means no future.

"Our fate is truly in the hands of a special session,” he said.

And while there are no guarantees, Tate says they will do their best to continue seeing and serving those who need them most.

I'm going to hope that our state legislature will get this figured out,” Tate said.

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