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Draft report recommends investing in behavioral health

Draft report recommends investing in behavioral health
Posted at 3:49 PM, Jun 11, 2024

HELENA — After almost a year of meetings and research, a state commission has come out with a draft report laying out recommendations for how leaders can invest millions of dollars to strengthen Montana’s behavioral health system.

The Behavioral Health System for Future Generations Commission came out of the Montana Legislature’s 2023 session – when lawmakers passed House Bill 872, which set aside $300 million over the coming years to improve the system.

Their 50-page draft report includes 21 main recommendations and another six “near-term initiatives” that the state could implement immediately.

“It's an overwhelming project – some people would try to tell me that it's an impossible task – but the commission, the executive branch, the Department of Public Health and Human Services, the legislators that are involved – they're up to the challenge,” said state Rep. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork, who sponsored HB 872 and chairs the commission. “It's not a quick fix. ‘Future Generations’ is in the title of the bill, it's in the title of the commission, and this truly is a look into the future – and it's really one step at a time.”

The longer-term recommendations include things like attracting and training behavioral health workers, strengthening case management programs and expanding crisis receiving and stabilization services.

“What has fallen apart over the last five or six years is the crisis response, and basically the community-based services – that's what has crippled the system and put so much pressure on the state hospital and the jails and the emergency rooms,” said Keenan.

Keenan said the commission’s recommendations do not call for building another state hospital in eastern Montana.

The commission is set to discuss their report at a meeting later this month. Keenan says he’ll also be presenting it to legislative interim committees later in the summer, and there will be opportunities for the public to comment at those meetings.

Leaders have already started implementing the near-term initiatives. Keenan said one of the most successful so far has been their allocation of $10 million to provide financial incentives for Montana group homes to restore or expand their residential bed capacity. He said they added another $5.8 million to that program to ensure all the eligible proposals they received were covered.

Keenan said he's optimistic to see the statewide interest in taking on behavioral health.

“The state hospital and the whole behavioral health system has been in a state of talk, no action, and so it has just more or less been pushed aside,” he said. “But now the stars have lined up and people are willing to talk about mental health, stigma has been reduced, and I'm totally happy with the way things are going right now and the public support from all layers of the community.”