ODMHSAS Commissioner Terri White said the new clinic will help address the gaps in mental health care for Oklahomans without the means to pay for services themselves. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

A new clinic in Tulsa could help address the lack of access to mental health services in Tulsa, and its leaders aim to boost the number of psychiatrists in the state.

The Oklahoma State University Behavioral Medicine Clinic, which had its grand opening on Friday, serves adults and children in need of outpatient care — which can be difficult to access in Tulsa. 

Dr. Jason Beaman, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, said the clinic will improve residents’ access to routine, outpatient care. People with no payer source have few options, he said.

“Your ability to see a psychiatrist absolutely depends on (your payer source),” Beaman said.

The clinic, on the 37th floor of the CityPlex Towers, specializes in psychiatric and neuropsychological care. It takes patients with no payer source, Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance.

The clinic’s doctors include a child psychiatrist who specializes in infant mental health, as well as a sports psychiatrist.

Doctors there treat “about any mental illness you can think of,” Beaman said.

Mental health advocates have said Tulsa lacks access to outpatient care. After the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (ODMHSAS) made cuts to its programs following state budget shortfalls, options have decreased across the state.

Low-income people who depended on state mental health programs now have fewer options and often seek treatment in emergency rooms or crisis centers.

“To make matters worse, there aren’t enough mental health providers in Tulsa and in Oklahoma to meet the demand for mental health services,” Beaman said. “The shortage is so severe that it can take up to six months to see a psychiatrist.

“We’re trying to make mental health services more accessible. One way is opening this clinic.”

But opening the clinic is only the beginning, Beaman said. Two years ago, OSU’s Center for Health Sciences didn’t have a department of psychiatry or even have psychiatrist. Now, it has 10.

“Within the next five years, I think we will have 40-plus providers,” Beaman said. “and we will be offering all sorts of comprehensive care, including really integrating that primary care with psychiatric and then providing all sorts of services via telemedicine and also education for the primary care doctors.”

In another effort to increase access to mental health services, OSU’s Center for Health Sciences is partnering with ODMHSAS in a psychiatry residency program.

“We graduate our first residents in just over two years, and at that time we’ll have five new psychiatrists in Tulsa every year,” Beaman said.

ODMHSAS Commissioner Terri White said the clinic’s opening is a big step.

“This is huge because we are coming so far in terms of mental health and addiction in our state,” she said.

Between 700,000 and 950,000 people in Oklahoma struggle with addiction and mental health issues, White said. Mental health affects a person’s physical health, as well.

People with brain diseases go untreated for years, and part of that is because of the separation between mental and physical health, White said.

“But having clinics like this is changing that for Tulsans, and that is huge because when we can break through the stigma we can help people understand this is a disease just like any other disease,” White said. “and most important, recovery absolutely can and does happen every single day for Oklahomans who get access to medical care.”

Dr. Kayse Shrum, president of OSU Center for Health Sciences, said the clinic’s goal is to improve access for patients. Another part of that vision is expanding the clinic’s capacity and addressing the shortage of doctors.

“I think what we’re doing here is very important. It’s very important for the state,” Shrum said. “We’re serving the underserved and improving healthcare for Oklahoma.”

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