Playing chicken with a $215 million budget hole, the state legislature is on the verge of forcing cuts that will devastate Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Playing chicken with a $215 million budget hole, the state legislature is on the verge of forcing cuts that will devastate Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Shawnee's best-known mental health entity, Gateway to Prevention & Recovery, at 1010 E. 45th Street in Shawnee, is scrambling to find its footing as the situation unfolds. Gateway's Clinical Director Cindy Stober said Gateway has offices in Shawnee, Chandler and Seminole — employing about 25 clinical and support staff members and providing services for approximately 2,000 clients or more per year.

She said if the budget crisis isn't quickly resolved, the consequences are going to be catastrophic.

“I don't know if people realize the magnitude of it,” she said. “They're (state leaders and legislators are) playing games with people's lives.”

As a result of the threatened cuts, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) recently announced its plans to eliminate all state-funded outpatient services statewide.

This is in response to not getting $75 million in funding that was contingent upon a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax that ended up being overturned.

If additional funds are not appropriated for fiscal year 2018, ODMHSAS reports it will be forced to initiate these plans. A cut of this magnitude represents 23 percent of the ODMHSAS budget, with an additional loss of $106 million in federal matching funds.

If initiated, these cuts will impact nearly 189,000 Oklahomans currently receiving outpatient services, 700 treatment agencies in communities statewide and more than 8,500 therapists, case managers, doctors and nurses, not to mention hundreds of support staff.

In an effort to petition legislators for a reprieve, many mental health workers — along with the public — are participating in a “Save Our Services” rally at 10 a.m. on the fourth floor rotunda at the State Capitol today.

Stober said Gateway, unlike some state agencies, will be able to remain open in some capacity, due to a few Federal grants. Though diminished, it would be able to continue some of its services.

“We won't close our doors,” she said. “We'll find a way to do whatever we can to provide help.”

Right now, Stober said she is meeting with Gateway's board and looking at options.

“We aren't making any changes yet, but we will have to implement something by the beginning of November,” she said.

Stober said the results of the first cut of $6 million will be noticed as soon as Dec. 1.

“We are supposed to get amended or updated contracts soon,” she said.

Stober said since the fiscal year is already half over, receiving the 23-percent cut now actually feels doubled because the total year's decrease is coming out of half as many months.

The money, however, isn't Stober's main concern.

“What is really sad is how upset people are about it,” she said. “There are clients out there — early in their recovery — who don't know what's going to happen.”

There would be no more therapy services for families with children or elderly members who need assistance, she said.

The impact would be huge regarding the loss of drug court alone, Stober said.

“Emergency rooms would be full and the police department would be jammed with the fallout,” she said. “The cost of the aftermath is going to far outweigh the cost of funding the services in the first place.”

But, Stober said, the most devastating consequence will come in the form of lives lost.