During the Health Care Forum last Thursday evening, panelists addressed the topic of mental health in Oklahoma. One topic that came up numerous times was the different kinds of help available to those with health insurance or Medicaid versus those who do not have any kind of coverage.

Jessica Pfau, executive director of Lighthouse Behavioral Wellness Centers, described the process those going through a mental crisis go through and how that process varies based on what type of coverage they have.

“As the community mental health center, we are responsible for responding to any sort of mental crisis call in our nine counties,” Pfau said. She said they are currently averaging around 200 calls per month, and Carter County is the top county for the number of calls they receive.

“There are three steps for someone in crisis,” Pfau said. This could mean someone is suicidal and about to hurt themselves or they are having an extreme anxiety attack.

“The first step is typically they get brought in somehow,” Pfau said. “Either through their family or law enforcement they get taken into an emergency room. The hospital or police officers recognize that the person is not suffering from a physical issue, and that it’s really not a criminal issue, so there’s recognition that there is some sort of mental health issue going on.

Pfau said that during the second step, law enforcement or emergency room staff use an iPad to FaceTime call one of Lighthouse Behavioral Wellness Centers’ on-call counselors. The counselor then does an assessment to determine if a patient needs to be emergency detained.

Pfau said that the issue of money and coverage comes into play during the third step of the process. 

“Now we need to find you a bed. We need to find a place willing to take you,” Pfau said. “If you have Medicaid there are a variety of places to take you. If you don’t, and you have no money, then you are going to have to wait until one comes open,” Pfau said.

Pfau said the difference between the kinds of treatments available to those without health coverage and those with insurance or Medicaid or insurance is vast during noncritical times as well.

“If you don’t have any money then finding you a place to get care affects you, and even once you find that place, the amount of services you have available to you is distinguished based on the type of coverage you have,” Pfau said. She then used Lighthouse as an example.

“Lighthouse is a community mental health center so we have the ability to serve anyone with Medicaid, Medicare, health insurance or someone without money,” Pfau said. “Outside of us there are lots of professional counselors available to those who have Medicaid. There are a few licensed professional counselors who will take heath insurance. But there is only one entity in Southern Oklahoma in our nine counties that is available if you have no money and that’s Lighthouse Behavioral Mental Wellness Centers.”