The Center for Mental Health will join with Western Montana Mental Health Center as part of an ongoing effort to improve services in Lewis and Clark, Jefferson and Broadwater counties — a move that might put an end to the search for a new care provider.
After meeting with Lewis and Clark County officials and members of an advisory committee last week, Sydney Blair, the chief executive officer for the Center for Mental Health, said while her organization will continue to own and operate the Helena agency, Jodi Daly will take over the position of southern services director. Daly, a clinical psychologist, is the southwest regional director for Western and has been working with the Center for Mental Health for the past nine months to bring back the Crisis Response Team that had been discontinued.
“We’ve been talking about this partnership for a long time,” Blair said on Monday. “They’re bigger, so their management structure is a little different, but I think we see eye to eye on a lot of things. We feel they’re really strong in the area of crisis services, and we’ve enjoyed working together.
“I anticipate this will be a fairly smooth transition.”
The move comes as a Mental Health Local Advisory Committee (LAC) is two months into putting together a request for proposals (RFP) from mental health care providers to possibly replace the Center for Mental Health, due to ongoing concerns about the services being provided.
Members of the advisory committee want a “continuum of care” for people living with mental illnesses instead of what they see as piecemeal operations offered through the Great Falls-based Center. A list of services the advisory group would like to see in the area, which was put together in April, totaled 34 items; at that time the Center for Mental Health was providing only 18. Items included prompt access to psychiatrists, a mental health court and emergency access to psychiatric medications.
Only a limited number of agencies are present in central Montana that might be able to provide those services.
Members of the LAC had discussed whether Western might be interested in taking over from the Center for Mental Health, but with the new partnership that might not be necessary, noted Lewis and Clark County Commissioner Andy Hunthausen, who’s a member of the advisory group. Still, it’s going forward with developing the RFP.
“We just want really good mental health services in Helena,” Hunthausen said. “If there were some other entities that would be able to do that, they’re welcome to look at the RFP, but right now, we’re just trying to say ‘Who can help us do this plan?’ and the Center and Western are trying to put a good-faith effort toward that. I’m encouraged with the way they are moving.”
Matt Kuntz, director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Montana, said he also sees the partnership as a positive move.
“I think that Western does know how to run a mental health center,” Kuntz said. “We see this as a positive step forward for Helenans who live with a mental illness.”
Daly said she’s thrilled with the new opportunity, adding that she’s already seen important improvements in the past year. One of her first moves will be to hire a full-time licensed clinician, which is a position Western has filled at its campuses in Missoula, Bozeman, Butte and Kalispell.
“What we find is we really need a full-time clinical lead who has mental health expertise,” Daly said. “That person, on site, will handle the administrative and clinical work, and I oversee that. I will hope that there will not be major visible changes for their employees.”
Rick Henson, who came out of retirement nine months ago to become the Center for Mental Health’s southern services director in Helena, will be phased out. Daly praised Henson’s work, noting that his background as a hospital administrator helped him build a good foundation at the Helena center.
“He’s done things like putting together a corrective action plan, going through state audits and helping with licensing and budgets,” Daly said. “The next step is the clinical models and that’s where Western can help.”
“We think that together we can maintain some stability and grow the programs. In the long run, I think it will be a good partnership.”
Other areas where the two agencies will collaborate include improvements to the Center for Mental Health’s electronic medical records and payroll system and financial budgeting. It has had cash flow problems in recent years, but Daly said that financially, the it had “done a 360.”
“But we all worry about the upcoming health care economics,” she said. Last year, reimbursements were cut and we have another legislative session coming up. It’s good to go into that with partnerships.”
Reporter Eve Byron:447-4076 or email@example.com
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