Oklahoma Watch
Oct. 4, 2021
First Watch

Focusing On Oklahoma’s Mental Health Best Practices, Struggles and Disparities

By Whitney Bryen

I have spent the past couple of years reporting on mental health in Oklahoma. Even before the pandemic, I was writing about police response to mental health. And COVID-19 only made the need for this coverage more urgent. 

 Last week, I attended the virtual Zarrow Mental Health Symposium to learn about Oklahoma’s mental health best practices, struggles and disparities. (The Anne & Henry Zarrow Foundation is a financial supporter of Oklahoma Watch). I heard about the challenges and successes of Phoenix Rising Alternative School in Tulsa. I met a woman whose brother was killed by police during a mental health crisis. (Check oklahomawatch.org soon for more on how she’s honoring her brother’s memory.) 

I learned about how one of the state’s community behavioral health clinics is addressing rural mental health needs. That’s a topic I’ve covered several times this year, including the importance of school counselors in mental health deserts. I hope to take you on a tour of that facility and what they’re doing later this year. 

I heard about how the shortage of Native American counselors makes it difficult for Oklahoma’s indigenous people to connect with mental health providers and receive the personalized help they need. And COVID-19’s impact on all of it. 

I am eager to put this new knowledge to work helping you understand the state of mental health in Oklahoma and what more can be done to help our state’s marginalized and vulnerable populations. A special thank you to all whose support of Oklahoma Watch makes possible this coverage and our commitment to continuous learning and training. If you have a story idea, tip or experience you’d like to share, email wbryen@oklahomawatch.org.

In Focus

Oklahoma Student Learning in a Pandemic: Test Results Show Heavy Toll

Oklahoma students lost ground in nearly every grade and subject as they struggled to learn amid COVID-19 disruptions. Results from state assessments taken by students in the spring show significant declines when compared to 2019, the last time students took state assessments. The 2020 exams were canceled at the onset of the pandemic. [Read More …]

The Latest

Long Story Short Podcast: Explaining Redistricting, Rights of the Condemned

Legislative reporter Trevor Brown shares the latest on the upcoming special session on redistricting legislative and congressional districts. Criminal justice reporter Keaton Ross talks about his explainer story on the rights of Oklahoma’s condemned prisoners.

And Paul Monies, who has focused on the state’s response to COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, breaks down the latest on the coronavirus as Oklahoma surpasses its 10,000th COVID death. [Listen…]

Corrections Department Plans Sign-On Bonuses, Temporary Pay Raises As Prison Staffing Problems Persist

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections plans to provide a $2,500 sign-on bonus to newly hired prison officers and temporarily boost pay for employees working in especially understaffed facilities. The agency had 387 fully-funded, vacant correctional officer positions in June. [Read More…]

As Lawmakers Prepare for Redistricting Special Session, What You Need to Know

Lawmakers will be returning to the State Capitol this fall to finish redrawing legislative and congressional districts. Their work will have far-reaching consequences.  [Read More…]

Around the web

‘These Aren’t The Bad Guys’: Afghanistan Refugees’ Arrival In Oklahoma Has Retired Army Colonel Back In Action: Those are the words of the 20-year veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces who now serves as operations manager for Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma. “These are people that are asking for our help,” Mike FitzGerald said. “They are young families with small children.” The 1,800 Afghan refugees headed to Oklahoma are the third-largest contingent for any state, according to data compiled by Axios. The Frontier reported last week that about 800 will go to Oklahoma City and 1,000 to the Tulsa and Stillwater areas. An Associated Press/NORC poll conducted late last month shows that 72% of Americans say they favor the U.S. granting refugee status to people who worked with the U.S. or Afghan governments during the war in Afghanistan, if they pass security checks.(Tulsa World)

Limit Admissions Or Close Down? Oklahoma Nursing Homes, Losing Workers, Make Tough Choices: About 60% of U.S. nursing homes surveyed say they have curtailed admissions due to a shortage of workers. “A year and a half ago, we were fighting for our lives and our residents’ lives, and it was just absolute misery,” said Kimberly Green, chief operating officer of Diakonos Group, which operates several Oklahoma nursing home facilities and employs nearly 1,000 caregivers. “So then, we get through the vaccine, we become such a safe environment, and we’re all so excited to try to get closer back to a normal life. But then we see, even though we’re open and can start taking more admissions, there’s nobody applying (for jobs).” (The Oklahoman)

There’s a Bipartisan Voting Rights Bill. Yes, Really. The Native American Voting Rights Act would let tribes determine the number and location of voter registration sites, polling places and ballot drop boxes on their reservations; bar states from closing or consolidating those sites without tribal consent; require states with voter identification laws to accept tribal identification; and create a $10 million grant program for state-level task forces to examine barriers to voting access for Native Americans. Said U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Norman, and a member of the Chickasaw Nation: “I don’t know that everybody will agree with what we’ve done, but it’s an awfully honest effort to address a real problem and to do it in a way we maximize our chances of actually passing the legislation and minimize the danger of it becoming partisan.” (New York Times)

Help Us Make a Difference

During times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, Oklahoma needs high-quality investigative journalism. That is our mission at Oklahoma Watch. We produce stories that hold government and public officials accountable and that make transparent what some prefer to keep secret. We depend on financial support from readers like you to sustain our coverage. Help us make a difference.

Thank you to our principal organizational sponsors and funders
for their generous support. 


Support our publication

Every day we strive to produce journalism that matters — stories that strengthen accountability and transparency, provide value and resonate with readers like you.

This work is essential to a better-informed community and a healthy democracy. But it isn’t possible without your support.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.