OKLAHOMA CITY – On the heels of Tuesday’s advisory by the U.S. Surgeon General highlighting the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis, Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson said the announcement further validates the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding’s vote to dedicate $7.5 million to expand pediatric behavioral health beds at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital.
Thompson is co-chair of the bipartisan, bicameral committee, tasked with vetting and making recommendations on the use of Oklahoma’s share of nearly $1.9 billion in funding available through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The committee voted unanimously on Monday to approve the expansion funds, which will add 10 emergency department beds to appropriately care for young people suffering from mental health crises.
“We’ve been hearing for months about the toll the pandemic has taken, and how it’s been especially devastating for children and youths, with reports of increased feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts, even before the pandemic. It's worse now,” said Thompson, R-Okemah. “The Surgeon General said the future wellbeing of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation. Our unanimous vote to use ARPA funding to expand mental health care at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital epitomizes our goal of strategic investments that will be transformational for our state.”
G. Rainey Williams, Jr., chair of University Hospitals Authority and Trust, said the vote helps address a major need for Oklahoma’s children.
“We thank the Legislature and our government partners for their generous support to advance behavioral health care for the children of Oklahoma. This is an important milestone in the state’s ARPA funding distribution, and we look forward to continuing through the process,” Williams said. “This funding plays a vital and necessary role to realize our vision of quality and comprehensive health care for the kids in our state. It addresses a major need for Oklahoma’s youth, especially as they have faced unprecedented challenges from COVID-19.”
Jon Hayes, president of Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, called it a major step toward helping some of the state’s most vulnerable youths.
“Oklahoma Children’s Hospital is grateful for the incredible support from the joint legislative committee for the kids of our state and region,” Hayes said. “This is a major milestone in securing funding from the state and will play a significant role in breaking down barriers and forging new pathways to well-being for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable children. When our kids win, we all win.”
The joint committee’s recommendation now moves to the steering committee, which will conduct the final review of the project before sending it to the governor for his approval.
For more information, contact Sen. Roger Thompson at 405-521-5588 or email Roger.Thompson@oksenate.gov.