The Central Oklahoma Community Mental Health Center in Norman (CMHC) is now half a century old.

The facility at 909 Alameda St. has been celebrating all summer long and plans on continuing the celebration throughout the year, Executive Director Cathy Billings said.

Ground breaking for the facility, the first of its kind in the country, took place in 1967. The center had its grand opening on July 3, 1969.

According to Billings, the facility was built with funds from the Community Mental Health Act, which was signed in 1963, under President John F. Kennedy. It freed up federal and state funds for oupatient mental health care. Many patients at that time were being treated in hospitals only.

“We have seen how to build a system of care. We have paid attention to trends. It's a honor and a privilege to be here 50 years. We're looking forward to more years of service,” Billings said.

Bilings, who has served in her position for four years, said the center is one of three Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services facilities in Norman.

The facility offers mental health and substance abuse treatment to children of all ages, adults and families.

Bilings said the state-operated CMHC offers best practice services including therapy, case management, medication management through pharmacists, holistic approach and help with housing, job placement and parental resources. The CMHC treats about 3,600 people a year from across Oklahoma and has about 100 new admissions a month.

“We have a wonderful staff. Some of them have been here 20 to 30 years, and some are newer. It's an amazing center. No one takes their jobs for granted,” she said.

She said their main mission is to help the underinsured, not just those with insurance, and the staff is honored and privileged to provide care to people with low incomes.

“The department of mental health does an amazing job. Our services are a safety net [for those in need],” she said.

To celebrate their 50th anniversary, the CMHC will bury a time capsule Sept. 27 in the courtyard. It will be filled with items relevant to staff and mental health services treatment and will be opened in 50 years. Department of Mental Health Commissioner Terri White will be present, and longtime staff members will be honored for their years of service.

Previous celebrations included cake and punch July 12 with former staff members, including some who worked at the facility when it first opened, and a cookout July 19.

“The building is a historic place. We're very proud of the role we've played in providing services. It's been a terrific time. We have story after story of success. We're excited to be part of a collaborative system in Norman. No one can do it alone,” Billings said.

She said the center partners with Thunder Clubhouse, Transition House, the Virtue Center, the Norman Police Department, the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office, Food and Shelter, the Women's Resource Center, Norman Public Schools and the Office of Juvenile Affairs to work with the limited funds each group receives and leverage the funds together to serve more people.

The center's operating hours are 8 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but someone is ready 24/7 for residents in need. Just call 360-5100 to receive assistance.

“We're here when they need us. We keep our doors open [for walk-ins]. We take the approach that there's no wrong door. We like to be here when we're needed,” Billings said.

For more information, call the CMHC at 360-5100.

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