Montana mental health center making ‘lemonade’ out of state budget cut impacts

Posted at 3:08 PM, May 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 15:02:04-04

MISSOULA – The Montana state budget cuts throughout 2017 slashed Western Montana Mental Health Center’s community based mental health care services.

WMMHC absorbed some serious cuts to case management services, cutting 60 case management positions statewide.

“I think they didn’t think through the consequences of what they were doing. Ya, they’re decimating some community pieces that have been in place for decades, and have been the underpinning of the community support system. When you take that away from people, inevitably you create chaos in the system, and these cuts have done that,” said Paul Meyer who is filling in while WMMHC recruits a new CEO.

He says case management is a foundational services for many people living with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. Their case management program for both adults and children lost 60 percent of its funding due to the cuts.

“That’s been horribly disruptive across the region, I think, for those folks that have long-term relationships with those case managers, and for the work those case managers did which was really keeping people stable in their homes, their jobs, their relationships,” he said.

In rural areas, WMMHC has closed offices. Libby, Dillon, and Livingston lost their programs, and a youth home for girls was closed in Kalispell. WMMHC has plans to rebuild programs and hire staff as state funding stabilizes.

“We’ve gone through up and downs before. This is the most severe contraction we’ve seen, though, and maybe unnecessary, if the revenues aren’t, in fact, as bad as were projected. I mean, that is really disheartening at this point, to discover that all of this chaos might not have been necessary,” Meyer said.

To offer some level of replacement services for adults, he says they established a mobile treatment program in Kalispell, Missoula, Hamilton and Butte. They also have a day treatment center that was able to continue its services in Missoula.

“We’re trying to get our feet under us, stabilize the organization enough to move forward with the programs we have in place. They’re not as comprehensive as they were before, but we’re making an effort to make sense out of this lemonade that we have been asked to serve everybody,” he said.

WMMHC has open access times for adults where people interested in services or more information can walk in. The hours are from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the center plans to host some events.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, call 911, or the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Reporting by Augusta McDonnell for MTN News