VIDEO: Is Oklahoma’s Budget Crisis A Threat To Public Health?

Feb 8, 2016

At the Oklahoma Watch-Out public forum last month, two prominent state health officials described the impact the state budget crisis and the oil-and-gas downturn could have on residents' physical and mental health.

As the Legislature prepares to assemble in February, the state’s two primary agencies that deal with health care for the impoverished and the mentally ill are bracing for cuts to services. At the same time, losses of jobs threaten to strain physical and emotional health for families at all income levels.

What health care services might be cut? Who would be affected? What would  cutbacks mean for clinics, doctors and other providers? What other options does the state have?

Oklahoma Watch Executive Editor David Fritze moderated the forum featuring Nico Gomez, chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, and Terri White, commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

During his tenure as deputy CEO, Gomez was responsible for communication with state legislative and congressional officials as well as leading several OHCA business units, including government relations, public information, reporting and statistics, tribal relations and child health.

As mental health commissioner, White leads a department that assists Oklahomans who suffer from mental illness and addiction, with services ranging from treatment to housing to prevention and early intervention. She was appointed commissioner in May 2007, becoming the first woman appointed Oklahoma Secretary of Health, serving in that capacity under Gov. Brad Henry from 2009 to 2011.

Under White, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has become nationally known for its children’s behavioral health services, community-based treatment programs, technological innovations such as “telepsychiatry” and the integration of behavioral health care into primary health-care settings.

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state.