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Guest column: CCBHC progress in Oklahoma is impressive, yet uncertain

Commissioner Carrie Slatton-Hodges, M.S., LPC - Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

Something special is happening in Oklahoma regarding the delivery of mental health and substance use treatment. Since 2017, we have been a national leader among states launching and operating Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs).

CCBHCs are a relatively new type of healthcare organization providing access to evidence-based addiction and mental health services, including 24/7 crisis response and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for addiction. They meet stringent criteria and, in exchange, receive federal funding to support the costs of expanding services in their communities.

Until recently, eight CCBHCs operated across Oklahoma. This summer, five more organizations were awarded CCBHC grants, bringing the total to 13. These clinics are changing lives and making our communities stronger.

The outcomes are impressive. CCBHCs in operation for four years have doubled the number of Oklahomans served. They added 981 new jobs to the healthcare workforce sector - an estimated economic impact of nearly $35 million annually.

By expanding access to care, CCBHCs also have realized cost savings for the state. Overall, they have generated a 21 percent reduction in the use of psychiatric inpatient beds, a 14 percent reduction in psychiatric emergency room visits, and a 69 percent reduction in the use of crisis stabilization and rehabilitation services, all of which translates into savings for taxpayers.

How is this possible?  One of the greatest impacts of Oklahoma’s CCBHC program was the establishment of urgent recovery centers, which operate 24 hours per day, seven days a week. In addition, CCBHCs have issued iPads to law enforcement agencies, equipped with a function that immediately connects officers to treatment providers at local CCBHCs – day or night – to determine appropriate treatment protocol for someone experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis.

It is clear that CCBHCs are working, transforming care and saving lives in Oklahoma. But here’s the catch. CCBHCs operate on two-year funding cycles that are dependent on congressional action for renewal, which creates uncertainty.

Fortunately, Congress is considering the bipartisan legislation that would provide much-needed stability and certainty to our CCBHCs and those operating across the country. The Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act would allow for the broad adoption of the CCBHC model and create a sustainable payment structure to ensure long-term viability and effectiveness.

The CCBHC program has proven its value – in Oklahoma and across the nation. When Oklahoma was selected as one of the first eight states to test this novel concept five years ago, Oklahoma’s congressional delegation was essential for making it happen. Today, Congress, including members of our congressional delegation, can ensure this innovative program is sustainable well into the future.