Healthy Minds, Healthy Communities 

click to enlarge Randy Tate, CEO of NorthCare. He sits on the Oklahoma Behavioral Health Association Board of Directors - PHOTO PROVIDED
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  • Randy Tate, CEO of NorthCare. He sits on the Oklahoma Behavioral Health Association Board of Directors

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released sobering data on the nearly 30 percent increase in overdose deaths rates nationally between December 2019 and December 2020. Oklahoma was not spared; we had 753 overdose deaths in 2020 alone – nearly a 22 percent increase over the prior year.

Oklahoma also has the unfortunate distinction of being ranked 8th in the nation in terms of the number of people dying by suicide. In 2019, we lost 816 individuals to suicide, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and I fear the numbers could be worse in 2020 as so many of our neighbors were struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We were living in the midst of a public health crisis before COVID-19, and unfortunately things have only gotten worse.

There are no easy solutions, no silver bullets. But access to quality mental health and substance use services is an essential ingredient. In our highly charged political environment, that is something everyone can agree on.

That is exactly what the bipartisan Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act of 2021 would do β€”ensure that anyone in need of mental health or substance use treatment can receive care at a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC), regardless of their insurance coverage or ability to pay.

CCBHCs provide 24-hour crisis care and evidence-based services to anyone in need of mental health or substance use treatment services. They work in partnership with law enforcement to divert people in crisis from jails, reduce hospitalizations and emergency department visits and generate cost savings for taxpayers. CCBHCs also provide tailored services for veterans and service members.

We are fortunate to have eight CCBHCs in Oklahoma already, and five more were recently awarded funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

CCBHCs in Oklahoma and across the country are dramatically increasing access to much needed mental health and addiction treatment. They are reducing wait times, with 50% providing same day access to care and almost all (93 percent) providing care within 10 days of initial contact, compared to the national average of 48 days, according to recent survey of CCBHCs conducted by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. This means that people are getting into care when they are ready, which can make all the difference.

In short, CCBHCs are making a difference. They are an important part of a comprehensive solution and one that we need to invest in for the long-term. The current federal funding model operates on a two-year grant cycle. But even then, the funding requires congressional

action for renewal, which creates uncertainty and potentially instability.

Legislation has recently been introduced with bipartisan support to allow any state or territory the option to participate in a demonstration program. This change would create a sustainable path for expanding access to comprehensive mental health and substance use treatment through CCBHCs.

This is the right approach at just the right time. We have to turn the tide on the overdose and suicide epidemic. And I believe CCBHCs are essential to that goal.

I urge the Oklahoma congressional delegation, including Senators Jim Inhofe and James Lankford, to support the bipartisan Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act. CCBHCs are saving lives and making our communities healthier and safer. They have proven their value and it is time to move to a sustainable funding model, one that ensures CCBHCs – and the people who rely on them – can continue to make a difference.

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Randy Tate


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