Highlight on Oklahoma: Precautions and maintenance of programs vital to protecting health

Oklahoma is currently focused on maintaining the health of its citizens (and their pets) in several different areas. From closing an ice cream plant, to keeping an eye out for bird flu, to maintaining mental health programs, the state has its hands full.

Blue Bell plant closed following listeria scare

In March 2015, a cup of ice cream traced back to a Blue Bell facility in Oklahoma was found to be contaminated with listeriosis. On April 3, Blue Bell announced the suspension of operations at its Broken Arrow plant to allow the company to determine the cause of the contamination. The now-recalled contaminated ice cream cups were shipped to institutions, such as hospitals. Listeria infections are prone to affecting people with weakened immune systems, like hospital patients. The outbreak was first identified when five patients who had been hospitalized in Kansas between December 2013 to January 2015 became infected. Three of those patients died. Blue Bell intends to reopen the plant once the investigation is complete.

Department of Agriculture warns of bird flu cases

According to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, those who have birds and poultry as pets should keep an eye on their health, as two new strains of avian influenza have been identified. Although the disease has not been identified in Oklahoma yet, cases have popped up in surrounding states in the last month. Humans are not in danger of contracting the disease from eating poultry products. However, those who come in contact with ill or dead poultry or wildlife should take precautions before interacting with domestic birds. Any signs of unusual bird sickness or death should be reported to officials.

Positive news for cancer patients

On a more positive note, a bill involving insurance standards for proton radiation cancer treatment has been passed by both the state House and Senate and is under review by Governor Mary Fallin (R). The bill would prevent insurers from holding this type of treatment to higher effectiveness standards than other radiation treatments. Proton radiation was approved by the FDA as a cancer treatment in 1988. However, some insurance companies still regard it as an experimental therapy. Utilizing a proton beam allows the radiation to be more effectively focused on the cancer cells, hopefully sparing damage to surrounding organs. According to the National Association for Proton Therapy, this treatment is painless and patients may have fewer side effects following proton radiation as opposed to traditional radiation.  This legislation does not contain a mandate requiring provision of coverage, but guides insurers on making coverage decision.

Making the case for mental health care

Oklahoma’s budget for the next fiscal year has been reduced by $611 million from the previous year. State agencies are expecting budget cuts. The director of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Terri White, hopes hers will not be one of the agencies forced to make do with less. In fact, she has requested an additional $10.2 million over last year’s funding to combat decreases in Medicaid reimbursement and maintain important programs.

White has collected data and statistics showing the effectiveness of the department’s services to support her requests. The Systems of Care program, operating in 72 counties, helps school-aged children up to 18 years old with serious behavioral and emotional problems. These children are now at reduced risks for arrest and out-of-home placements. The mental health courts, drug courts, and family drug court have all worked to reduce arrests and the burden on the court system overall. The family drug court saved the Department of Human Services approximately $5 million over three years by allowing faster reunification of participating families in cases where children were removed due to substance abuse in the home.

The number of people in the state needing mental health or substance abuse treatment is somewhere between 700,000 and 950,000, but Oklahoma is only able to help about 190,000 each year. White maintains that the additional amount requested is absolutely necessary to maintain the current state of the program and avoid cutting services provided to at least 5,000 citizens.