Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Bill will change trajectory of state’s mental health services

by Daily Inter Lake
| May 21, 2023 12:00 AM

As state legislators tally the wins and losses from the 2023 session, one area that all Montanans can celebrate is the commitment to shore up the state’s broken behavioral health network.

At the top of the heap is Bigfork Republican Rep. Bob Keenan’s House Bill 872 — a potent effort to expand Montana’s mental health infrastructure and services.

A veteran legislator who previously represented the Flathead Valley in the state Senate, Keenan has worked on mental health reform for the bulk of his public service career, dating back to the 1990s. Accordingly, Gov. Greg Gianforte tapped him to carry this bill.

The legislation sets aside $300 million in state funding to review and rebuild Montana’s mental health system. From improving the state’s network of local care options to addressing shortfalls at the state psychiatric hospital in Warm Springs, the legislative package is robust and will go a long way to improve a mental health system that is, quite frankly, a mess.

Recent years have seen significant cuts to provider rates that ultimately forced important local resources to shutter or reduce services.

What’s more, prior to the session, Department of Public Health and Human Services director Charlie Brereton warned legislators that an investment into the Montana State Hospital would be essential for the facility to regain its CMS accreditation after it was shockingly stripped in 2022.

This bill delivered on that request and now awaits Gianforte’s approval.

“This $300 million, honestly it’s what it’s going to take to rebuild Warm Springs and bring back community based mental health services,” Gianforte said in a previous interview — a strong indication his signature is assured.

For his part, Keenan called the legislation “one of the more significant bills to come out of the legislative session in decades.” Now, he says he’ll work to justify the funding as a means to help fix a public health system that is teetering on “dysfunctional.”

“We are currently dealing with the reality of the neglect of the public health system,” Keenan recently told the Inter Lake.

Some Republicans the Inter Lake spoke with suggested that HB 872 wouldn’t have made it to the governor’s desk without Keenan’s name on the bill — an indication of the reverence other lawmakers have for Keenan’s decades of work in the behavioral health arena.

While HB 872 is not a cure-all, it will help turn the tide toward rebuilding a deficient system.

The Flathead Valley and Montana is fortunate to have a legislator who not only recognizes the dire need to provide mental health services, but one who is willing to fight for them session after session.

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