Oklahoma mental health policy highlights of the 2024 legislative session

June 6, 2024

Building on last year’s critical investments in Oklahoma’s mental health infrastructure, which will soon add hundreds of psychiatric hospital beds to the state’s capacity, lawmakers this year passed measures to ensure Oklahoma has the professionals needed to staff these new and expanded facilities.  

During the 2024 session, the Oklahoma Legislature passed key mental health bills and appropriated over $5 million to provide much-needed support to the state’s behavioral health workforce.

Unlike in previous years’ closed-door negotiations, the chambers worked out a $12.48 billion budget agreement through a series of public hearings. Now, Gov. Kevin Stitt has until June 14 to sign or veto the bills that remain on his desk, including budget bills. He can also “pocket veto” any bill by taking no action on it — if he does not act on any bill the chambers sent to him during the last five days of the session, it will not become law.

Highlights of the session include:

  • An appropriation of more than $5 million to support a 30% increase in Oklahoma’s psychiatric residency positions
  • Passage of Healthy Minds’ priority bills, which will make Oklahoma more attractive to social workers and allow for better, more consistent data collection about the state’s behavioral health workforce
  • A 7.8% budget increase for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS)
  • Senate approval of Allie Friesen as ODMHSAS’s new commissioner

Healthy Minds’ priorities

Investing in Oklahoma’s behavioral health workforce

The Legislature’s appropriation of over $5 million to behavioral health workforce development funds at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University will provide initial funding for eight new psychiatry residency positions, a step toward remedying the state’s critical shortage of psychiatrists.

About $3 million will go to the Oklahoma State University Medical Authority Behavioral Health Workforce Development Fund, first established in 2023 through HB 2036.

Another $2,082,000 will go to OU’s University Hospitals Authority Trust and Behavioral Health Workforce Development Fund, established this session by HB 3449 by Rep. Jeff Boatman (R-Tulsa) and Sen. John Haste (R-Broken Arrow). The bill also expands the scope of the fund at OSU.

Increasing Oklahoma’s number of psychiatric residencies was among several recommendations in Healthy Minds’ 2023 behavioral health workforce reports, which found that Oklahoma’s greatest workforce need is for professionals with the ability to prescribe medication.

The additional eight psychiatry residency positions will create a 30% increase in the state’s total compared to Oklahoma’s 27 residency slots in 2024.

While $5 million helps bring more psychiatric residencies to the state, a one-time strategic investment of $36.8 million into the state’s behavioral health workforce as originally proposed by Healthy Minds could have changed the landscape of mental health in the state, adding more than 500 jobs and $96.5 million to Oklahoma’s economy over the next 14 years.

Solving workforce challenges

Two other priority bills also stem from obstacles identified through Healthy Minds’ research on Oklahoma's behavioral health workforce needs.  

Oklahoma only has about two-thirds of the social workers it needs — and more stringent training requirements for social workers than other states. HB 3015, by Rep. Boatman and Sen. Jessica Garvin (R-Duncan), aims to increase Oklahoma’s numbers of social workers by aligning the state’s licensure requirements with those of other states.  

To be a licensed clinical social worker in Oklahoma, candidates must complete 4,000 hours of supervision – about 1,000 more than national averages and requirements in neighboring states. HB 3015 will lower the requirement to 3,000 hours, allowing social workers to join the workforce faster and making Oklahoma a more attractive place to train and practice.

HB 3330, by Rep. Cynthia Roe (R-Lindsay) and Sen. Paul Rosino (R-Oklahoma City), will streamline data collection for four boards that license behavioral health workers, painting a clearer and more complete picture of the state’s workforce over time.  

Currently, boards collect slightly different information, making it difficult for researchers and policymakers to compare workforce metrics across professions. Under HB 3330, the boards will ask licensees a standard set of questions, including demographic details and information about their training and education. More consistent data will inform strategic investments and policy changes needed to ensure a thriving behavioral health workforce.

Read more: HB 3330: Behavioral health licensure data bill FAQ

Appropriations and funding

The Legislature appropriated about $387 million in funding to ODMHSAS for fiscal year 2025 through the general appropriations bill, SB 1125*. A 7.8% increase from the previous fiscal year, the appropriation includes:

  • About $4.5 million for the Mental Health Transport Revolving Fund  
  • $12.5 million for the County Community Safety Investment Fund  

HB 2929 breaks down how ODMHSAS must use certain funding, including:

  • About $3.9 million for the state portion of Medicaid rates
  • $18.5 million for the continuum of care for children in crisis
  • $4.1 million to use in the event of a “consent decree” that could resolve a lawsuit against the department regarding competency restoration services for people accused of crimes who are too mentally ill to stand trial
  • $500,000 for five pilot programs to provide medication-assisted treatment for opioid and alcohol dependence to people incarcerated in county jails

Additionally, HB 2924 appropriates about $25.7 million from the Opioid Lawsuit Settlement Fund to the Oklahoma Opioid Abatement Revolving Fund.

Confirmation of mental health commissioner

The Senate officially confirmed Allie Friesen as the commissioner of ODMHSAS this session. Friesen, previously the director of clinical programs in behavioral health at INTEGRIS Health, began her tenure in January after she was appointed to the role by Gov. Stitt.  

Friesen succeeds Carrie Slatton-Hodges as the state’s mental health commissioner. Slatton-Hodges announced her departure in November 2023.

Other key mental health bills

Mental health treatment and workforce

HB 3451 by Rep. Boatman updates the definition judges, law enforcement officers, and mental health professionals use to determine when someone may be held in protective custody for a mental health evaluation to determine whether they need to be involuntarily hospitalized. The bill allows for the deterioration of someone’s mental health to be considered when making these determinations. Previously, a person had to be deemed an immediate threat to themselves or others to meet the standard for involuntary hospitalization. Now, officials can consider a person’s mental health history over the previous 72 hours when making decisions around involuntary commitment, potentially making it easier for family members to get a loved one involuntarily committed to mental health treatment.  

Read more: New law modifies Oklahoma’s definition of “person requiring treatment”

HB 1345
by Rep. Chris Banning (R-Bixby) and Sen. Joe Newhouse (R-Tulsa) allows the Oklahoma State Board of Examiners of Psychologists to enter into licensure reciprocity agreements with other states and jurisdictions, removing a hurdle for out-of-state psychologists wanting to practice in Oklahoma.  

Criminal justice and public safety

SB 1457 by Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. Chris Kannady (R-Oklahoma City) says that first responders can receive workers’ compensation for a mental injury or illness.

SB 1740 by Sen. Todd Gollihare (R-Kellyville) protects people from civil liability when they administer an emergency opioid antagonist (such as naloxone, the generic name for Narcan) in good faith. By offering legal protection to “Good Samaritans,” the bill could encourage more people to intervene if they see someone overdosing.

SB 1756 by Sen. Ally Seifried (R-Claremore) requires courts to consider a person’s history with court-ordered substance use or mental health treatment when making determinations about child custody, visitation, or guardianship.

Insurance and administration

HB 3190 by Rep. Carl Newton (R-Woodward) and Sen. Garvin makes several changes to how insurance companies handle prior authorizations. Under the new law, prior authorization denials and appeals must be handled by physicians or licensed mental health professionals who have expertise related to the medical condition in question. This is expected to lower the number of denials and ground the prior authorization process in what is medically appropriate for a patient, rather than what is least expensive for insurance companies.  

HB 2330 by Rep. Boatman and Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville) repeals a law that requires the State Department of Health to issue a certificate of need for psychiatric and drug dependency services. The change will allow treatment facilities to open with less red tape.  

HB 3556 by Rep. Gerrid Kendrix (R-Altus) and Sen. Brent Howard (R-Altus) changes that licensed health care providers may, but are not required to, share data to the Health Information Exchange (HIE), alleviating providers’ concerns about patient privacy.