Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) After years of planning, Missoula will finally have a designated facility open to patients experiencing a mental health crisis when a 13-bed receiving center opens next month.

Dr. Ann Douglas, who formerly headed the All Nations Health Center, said Monday the new facility is expected to open in mid-November, when it will begin receiving patients experiencing an urgent mental healthcare need.

“What we’ve found and why we’ve put this in place is that a lot of people are being referred to the emergency room or going to jail when they just need services,” said Douglas. “It’s been an initiative for the Behavioral Health Strategic Alliance in Missoula. The community partners identified this as a gap in services.”

The city and county in recent years have taken steps to fill what many providers see as an unmet need in Missoula when it comes to behavioral health, that being the city’s lack of a crisis receiving center.

Both governments have directed federal funding to tip up the Crisis Intervention and Mobile Support teams. The teams have seen calls for service increase over the past two years and, up until now, many of those needing care had few options available to them beyond the emergency room or a trip to jail.

Last year, with the need identified, Missoula County approved an agreement with the Western Montana Mental Health Center and directed $113,000 in grant funding to help establish the receiving center. It will also contribute $1 million in ARPA funds while Providence St. Patrick Hospital applied funding from a trust to help build the center.

The facility will provide trauma-informed care for those experiencing a behavioral health crisis. Officials believe it will provide support to as many as 4,000 patients in its first year.

“The crisis receiving center will create access for western Montanans regardless of their ability to pay or residency,” said Jeremy Williams, director of behavioral health for Providence. “This site will fill a need for those who seek resources and support for their mental health concerns and substance-use conditions.”

County commissioners in the coming weeks will consider director additional funding from the county’s Mental Health Mill to help fund some of the center’s startup costs. On Monday, they estimated those costs at around $232,000.

However, once the center begins receiving patients, Medicaid billing will help support the center’s operational costs. The center is currently interviewing registered nurses and security personnel before opening next month.

“It can be scary to call 911 if your child is having a psychotic break or is manic and just needs some services, because you don’t want to spend hours at the ER – that’s really not what they need – and you don’t want to call the police when they really just need that mental health support and stabilization,” said Douglas.

While voters opposed funding a dedicated crisis services levy last year, the proposal’s campaign often noted the costs borne by taxpayers when addressing acute mental health emergence in Missoula. Trips to the emergency room aren’t cheap, nor is housing an individual in the county jail.

The center will provide options when dealing with patients experiencing a crisis.

“We’ve heard pretty strongly from folks who work in emergency services, hospitals, the ER and the detention center, that their resources are being used improperly and they’re really expensive,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “What some of the people need who are in crisis is a place to calm down, get assessed, and then take the next step instead of using really expensive resources.”

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