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Tulsa’s mental health care system target of regional study, 10-year plan

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Mental health professionals and advocates, Tulsa-area elected officials, business and education leaders, and the philanthropic community announced an in-depth study of the Tulsa region’s mental health care delivery system and a comprehensive 10-year plan for improvement.

The University of Tulsa Institute for Health Care Delivery Sciences, in collaboration with numerous public and private Tulsa-based organizations, formed a steering committee comprised of 17 Tulsa mental health care professionals, philanthropists and community leaders to conduct the search and selection of a consulting firm with expertise in studying mental health care delivery systems and community health. Following a rigorous request for proposals, the steering committee selected the Urban Institute, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit research organization dedicated to elevating the debate on economic and social policy. The Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation is funding the study.

“Oklahoma is second in the nation in the percentage of the population with mental illness, with almost one in four of our citizens affected. Yet, the majority of those affected do not receive the treatment they need, so we have to do better for Oklahoma,” said Dr. Jeffrey Alderman, a member of the steering committee and director of the TU Institute for Health Care Delivery Sciences. “Urban Institute understands the breadth of mental health care and how it affects an entire community.”

Following the study, Tulsa will have a long-term roadmap for finding better outcomes for its citizens at a lower cost to the community, Alderman said.

The Tulsa Regional Mental Health Plan is considered a phase-two project following the Tulsa-area health disparities discovered in the Lewin Report in 2005. The Lewin Report motivated Tulsa leaders to join together in organizing a community-wide plan for health improvement; since that time, Tulsa appears to be the only U.S. city that has appeared to improve its health disparities, reducing a 14-year difference in life expectancy between north and south Tulsa to 11 years.

“At a time when our state and our region are facing budget cuts in every area, we simply can’t afford to keep funding these systemic issues within our mental health care system. We also cannot wish them away or hope nonprofits and philanthropists alone will solve the problem we have in Oklahoma,” said Dr. Gerard Clancy, Tulsa Regional Mental Health Plan steering committee co-chair and TU president-designate. “Tulsa has the opportunity to be a thought leader in the nation’s mental health delivery systems and to serve as a model for other cities dealing with this issue.”

Urban Institute’s research will focus on individuals 0 to 65 years of age with mental illness in the seven-county Tulsa metropolitan statistical area (MSA). Researchers will document the needs related to mental illness, assess current resources to meet those needs, identify gaps and inefficiencies in the system, and ultimately define how Tulsa can move forward to provide a well-functioning, prevention-oriented, recovery-centered, evidenced-based and cost-effective continuum of care for people affected by mental illness. Potential recommendations from the report may include cross-sector alignment, policy changes, addressing behavioral health workforce shortages and increasing funding for behavioral health services.

“The work Tulsa is undertaking will give us a clearer picture of how mental illness affects an entire metro area, and will shed light on the full scope of its impact across many systems,” said Laudy Aron, senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “First responders, health care providers, teachers and employers are all affected by mental illness, especially when community-based systems of care fall short. Our goal in working with Tulsa is to examine the data, identify best practices from across the nation, and develop evidence-based recommendations specific to Tulsa that can fill gaps and drive real improvements in the lives of people living with mental illness and for the entire community.”

TU and Urban Institute will work together to complete the in-depth study and complete the final report and plan by January 2018. The patient- and community-focused study will gather and process information from three sources: qualitative data from patients and their caregivers, qualitative data from thought leaders across the Tulsa Region, and quantitative data from a variety of organizations, including health care organizations, social services and nonprofits, insurers, and government agencies.

About the Tulsa Regional Mental Health Plan Steering Committee
A steering committee made up of 16 Tulsa mental health care professionals, foundations and community leaders formed in 2016 to lead a regional mental health study and 10-year comprehensive plan for improving Tulsa’s mental health delivery system. The steering committee selected Urban Institute to conduct the study and create the plan for solutions.

About Urban Institute
The nonprofit Urban Institute is dedicated to elevating the debate on social and economic policy. For nearly five decades, Urban scholars have conducted research and offered evidence-based solutions that improve lives and strengthen communities across a rapidly urbanizing world. Their objective research helps expand opportunities for all, reduce hardship among the most vulnerable, and strengthen the effectiveness of the public sector.

About The Lewin Report
In 2005, the St. John Foundation funded the engagement of a planning consultant (The Lewin Group), which found tremendous health disparities among Tulsans. The Lewin Report motivated Tulsa leaders to join together to organize a community-wide plan for health improvement. Since the plan launched 10 years ago, Tulsa appears to be the only U.S. city that has been able to decrease – and thus improve – its health disparities, improving from a 14-year difference in life expectancy between north and south Tulsa to 11 years.