Mental Health Commissioner Terri White leaving office
Oklahoma's top mental health professional, a seasoned state agency head, will leave office on Feb. 1.
Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Terri White announced her plan Tuesday to leave office.
White, who was appointed commissioner in May 2007, is one of the state's most tenured agency heads and the longest serving mental health commissioner in the United States. She joined the agency in 2001.
“It has been my deepest honor to serve as Oklahoma’s Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse for the last 13 years,” White said in a statement.
Carrie Slatton-Hodges, who has served as White's deputy commissioner, will immediately take over as interim commissioner.
The department of mental health services is one of the largest state agencies with an operating budget of nearly $400 million and roughly 1,800 employees.
Under legislation signed into law last year, Gov. Kevin Stitt will get to appoint White’s successor.
The legislation gave Stitt the power to hire and fire the heads of five additional state agencies. Previously, the state board of mental health appointed the agency’s director.
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According to a news release from her office, White, who also served as Oklahoma’s first female secretary of health from 2009 to 2011 under former Gov. Brad Henry, will continue working in the mental health field in Oklahoma. The release did not specify White's next move.
Courtney Knoblock, chairwoman of the state board of mental health, said Oklahoma owes White a debt of gratitude.
"As commissioner, she spent the past decade skillfully building a mental health department that applies a data-driven, continuous improvement approach to all its work and funding decisions and just as important, she has personally and tirelessly worked to destigmatize mental illness in Oklahoma by promoting proven treatments for improved brain health," she said. "I have no doubt she will continue making a difference for Oklahomans in the next phase of her career.”
An Edmond native and trained social worker, White has received widespread praise over the years for her devotion to improving mental health services in Oklahoma. She consistently kept administrative costs at the agency low so more than 97% of of department funding would go toward prevention and treatment services throughout the state.
White also played a key role in the state’s 2019 case against opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. As one of the state’s final witnesses in the trial, White grew emotional as she testified that drugmakers like Johnson & Johnson were to blame for the opioid crisis that has ravaged Oklahoma. A Cleveland County judge ruled in the state's favor, and the company has appealed the ruling.
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin said there is no doubt in her mind that White positively impacted the state.
“Terri White has been a fierce advocate for mental health services throughout our state," Virgin said. "Her passion for her job as commissioner was driven by her compassion for Oklahomans suffering from mental illness."
Stitt thanked White for her service and wished her well in the next stage of her career.
“We appreciate the leadership Terri White has provided in addressing and promoting mental health across Oklahoma and wish her the best as she enters this new chapter," he said.