OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma has a critical shortage of nearly every type of behavioral health provider, according to a recently released report.
The report, authored by the Healthy Minds Policy Initiative, was recently released in an interim study by the Oklahoma House Public Health Committee.
Zack Stoycoff, executive director of the Healthy Minds Policy Initiative, a nonprofit organization with offices in Tulsa and Oklahoma City that works to transform policy and practice to eliminate untreated mental illness.
Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa, said the study profoundly reveals the disparity between the size of the state’s mental health workforce and the needs of Oklahomans, especially is in demand by psychologists and psychiatrists.
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Oklahoma’s psychiatrists can only meet 39% of the state’s estimated need, the report said. Psychologists met 37% of the requirements.
There are 23 psychiatry residency positions available in Oklahoma. It has 19 accredited psychology internship positions.
“Oklahoma has limited college internship and residency opportunities, which means our future physicians must overwhelmingly leave the state to complete their training,” Provenzano said. “When they leave, they often don’t Come back again. Now is the time for Oklahoma to increase our capabilities and keep these doctors in the country.”
Degree programs that support behavioral health careers are graduating more students than ever before, but not enough to meet the state’s growing demand for treatment services, the report says.
Stojkov said behavioral health includes mental health and substance abuse issues.
Oklahoma has an abundance of licensed professional counselors but a shortage of licensed marriage and family therapists, psychologists and clinical social workers, the report said.
The state also has a shortage of psychiatrists, advanced practice registered nurses and practical nurse practitioners to provide psychiatric or mental health services.
“Oklahoma has far more primary care providers than psychiatrists, and they can also be part of the solution to the behavioral health prescriber shortage,” the report states. “While many patients with mild or moderate behavioral health conditions Troubled patients receive medication management through primary care providers, but only half of diagnosable mental health and substance abuse conditions are detected in primary care, and only half of those detected receive treatment.”
Stoycoff said the group proposed a 14-point plan that includes $30 million worth of strategic incentives that the Legislature can implement to change the trajectory of the behavioral health pipeline.
Too many young people experiencing mental health crises end up in hospital emergency rooms, said Jim Zahniser, director of population health analysis at the Healthy Minds Policy Initiative.
Suicide and overdose deaths have increased, Zanicer said, and the pandemic has further exacerbated that trend.
He said many people know someone who is suicidal or has overdosed.
“That’s usually because they’re not being discovered,” he said. “There are not enough professionals to meet the demand.”