Director: McAlester mental health center grows amid pandemic

·3 min read

Jun. 2—A mental health facility in southeast Oklahoma expanded over the past year and is looking to help more people.

Carl Albert Mental Health Center in McAlester saw an uptick in consumers during the past year — with the facility's executive director saying more people needed mental health services.

"With COVID and everything else, that's increased our work," Executive Director Debbie Moran said. "We like our work but it's been a struggle how we provide those services."

Carl Albert operates under the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and has seven satellite facilities across a 10-county service area.

Data from the ODMHSAS shows the facility served about 3,900 people in each of the past two years — including an increase among children served.

But Moran said it feels like the number of patients doubled during the pandemic.

Full-time staffing at CACMHC rose about 17% in the past year — 10% working with children, youth and young adults.

The facility faced several challenges at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — including how staff could safely provide services to consumers.

Moran said the department implemented precautions to help limit community spread, such as mask requirements, temperature checks, shutting the front door to public access, and more.

She said the department would follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when considering to mitigate the protocols at the facility.

Moran said the department made advancements in helping consumers while making public safety a priority through the pandemic with increased telehealth services.

She said the facility used a polycom system and Zoom for video conferences with consumers that helped keep people safe during interactions.

CACMHC issued 575 iPads to consumers that only connect directly to the department's system to keep in contact and provide services, Moran said.

"That's helped us stay in contact with people, especially those that are having transportation problems or some of them who just physically can't get out," Moran said. "And some are high-users of the system that need a little more contact or a little more support."

Consumers can refuse the iPads, which CACMHC started offering through federal grant funds and requested to continue receiving those funds into the next year.

The department also focused on integrated care — which ties behavioral health services with general or specialty medical care.

Christopher Graham, director of integrated care at CACMHC, said several factors can lead to high drug use and higher mental health risks.

"Our population dies about 25 years younger than the average person so we see a lot of people with a lot of trauma and a lot of rough histories — and they're at great risk," Graham said.

CACMHC offers a variety of resources through programs aimed to help anyone in mental crisis and address issues leading to mental health issues.

A consumer can call the facility at 918-426-7800 or visit 1101 E. Monroe Ave. in McAlester to start the interview process. An appointment will be made within 3-5 days — or immediately if the person shows acute symptoms like hearing voices, suicidal or harmful thoughts, and more.

Moran said each consumer gets team-based care, including a licensed counselor, two case managers, a nurse, an RSS, and a wellness coach.

"Our goal is to try to keep people out of the hospital so whatever we can do to prevent that upfront and try to get them engaged and help them — we're going to try to do that," Moran said.