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Lewis & Clark County approves temporary contracts for jail mental health services

Posted at 3:21 PM, Dec 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-31 20:19:40-05

HELENA — Lewis and Clark County leaders have approved two temporary contracts to ensure mental health services in the county detention center continue, after the previous provider ended its operations there.

The Lewis and Clark County Commission voted Tuesday to give short-term contracts to the Center for Mental Health, through the end of February. The Center will provide a behavioral health therapist in the jail on weekdays during business hours, and they will have staff on-call for crisis responses there the rest of the time.

The county will pay the Center $110 per hour the therapist spends at the jail and $500 per day for crisis response, up to a maximum of $52,000.
Western Montana Mental Health Center had previously handled these operations, but declined to continue after county leaders made changes to the services.

The county is now looking to directly hire behavioral health staff for the jail, instead of contracting for those positions. Kellie McBride, the county’s director of criminal justice services, said they plan to hire two therapists and one case manager.

The county has also opened a request for proposals for a countywide crisis response team, which will be called in to provide mental health assistance to keep 911 responses and other emergency situations from escalating.

County leaders say it’s important to make sure there isn’t a break in these services while they search for permanent replacements. McBride said there is currently no therapist working in the jail, after Western’s last therapist left the position in November. She said St. Peter’s Health is currently assisting with crisis response needs, but that the detention center doesn’t have the option to take someone to the hospital when they are in crisis.

County commissioners thanked the Center for Mental Health for taking on this temporary responsibility.

“For any provider who comes and works with this population, our entire citizenry owes them a real debt, because this is very, very challenging work,” said Commissioner Susan Good Geise.

Mental health services in the jail were expanded as part of the operations levy Lewis and Clark County voters passed in 2017, which also provided funding for an expanded detention center. On Tuesday, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Alan Hughes, who administers the detention center, said the vast majority of their inmates are identified as needing some behavioral health services – either for mental health needs, substance abuse or both.

The county is currently in the process of expanding the detention center to alleviate severe overcrowding. Commissioners said Tuesday that the upgraded facility will also feature improved spaces designated for behavioral health treatment.

“This is really important to get this short-term contract in place,” said Commissioner Andy Hunthausen. “It’s a needed service; it’s something we said we were going to do. We’re providing these services, and they’re only going to get better.”

McBride said the county will be accepting proposals for a crisis response team through Jan. 14. She said they hope to have a new permanent provider selected before the Center for Mental Health’s temporary contract ends on Feb. 28.

“This whole community needs one,” McBride said. “It’s not something we can go without.”

The county commission must officially approve the new behavioral health positions before anyone can be hired, though McBride said she has been able to start the recruitment process. However, she said they may not have enough time to hire therapists before the short-term contract expires. In that case, the county and the Center for Mental Health will have to discuss what can be done to cover the remaining time.

You can find more information on the end of Western Montana Mental Health Center's Lewis and Clark County services here.