The full Senate has passed legislation that would provide immediate patient care via telemedicine and reduce costly mental health transports for patients when a law enforcement officer is involved. Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, authored the measure.
Under Senate Bill 7, if an officer is called to assist a medically stable individual suffering from a mental health issue, the patient could be assessed via telemedicine by a licensed mental health professional if the capability is available. Under current law, the officer would be required to transport the patient to the nearest mental health facility for assessment.
“We’re already facing a shortage of law enforcement officers across the state. Pulling an officer from his or her normal duties to transport a patient is an inefficient use of resources when there’s a better option utilizing modern technology,” Bergstrom said. “This is especially an issue in rural Oklahoma where officers and deputies may be in short supply, and available mental health facilities could be hours away.”
Bergstrom said he began working on this legislation after a sheriff’s department in his district implemented a telemedicine pilot program utilizing iPad technology for officers to use at these calls. Prior to the telemedicine option, officers were making 70-80 mental health transports a year. After the program launched, these transports were significantly reduced.
“The telemedicine program already in place in northeastern Oklahoma is a shining example of how we can efficiently handle mental health calls while reducing patient trauma and allowing these individuals faster diagnosis and treatment options,” Bergstrom said. “Not only is this a more compassionate and efficient option for the patient, but it would also greatly reduce the number of required taxpayer-funded mental health transports.”
The measure unanimously passed the Senate during the 2020 legislative session but didn’t make it through the legislative process after the session was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It now heads to the House of Representatives where Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, is the House principal author.