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CEO of Western Montana Mental Health steps down

by MARA SILVERS Montana Free Press
| May 26, 2023 7:00 AM

One of the state’s most prominent providers of mental health and addiction services will soon begin searching for a new chief executive.

A representative of Western Montana Mental Health Center said this week that the Missoula-headquartered organization decided not to renew Levi Anderson’s contract after his five years of serving as CEO. Anderson’s last day at the organization was Friday, May 19.

Western has contracted with Cascadia Management Group, also based in Missoula, to help with the administrative transition for the next two to three months. The president of that group, Colleen Rudio, is overseeing Western as the interim executive administrator. She framed Anderson’s exit as a mutual decision between him and Western based on the nonprofit’s desire to “look for a different style of leadership” and prioritize collaboration with other health care providers.

“Right now the organization needs to focus on their relationships and the organizations in each of their communities,” Rudio said in a Wednesday phone interview. “Making sure where we need to be, when we need to be there, is really what I think the board is focusing on in its next leadership.”

Anderson was not available for comment before publication.

Western, long the backbone of behavioral health services in communities across western Montana, has faced financial headwinds for years. The state Legislature in 2017 slashed Medicaid reimbursement rates, specifically for case managers, destabilizing many Medicaid-dependent providers the year before Anderson took the helm at Western. The COVID pandemic increased staffing strains and overhead cost burdens.

Though the organization has continued to provide myriad services, including crisis stabilization and Comprehensive School and Community Treatment (CSCT) in public schools, Western has also closed programs and lost contracts in recent years. In an April interview with KFF Health News, Anderson said Western’s outsized scope of services has made the shuttering of some programs more visible.

“We’ve become the face of the failure of the system because we’re the only organization providing these services,” Anderson said at the time.

Lawmakers from both political parties doubled down on increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates for providers during the 2023 Legislature, bringing new investments up to $330 million in state and federal funds, according to Rep. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork, the chair of the health budget subcommittee.

But those provider rates are not yet set in stone. The budget bill containing the proposed increases, House Bill 2, has not been transmitted to the governor’s desk and could change shape when it is. Gov. Greg Gianforte, who has the power of line-item vetoes on budget bills, was asked in May by Senate Majority Leader Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, to carve out some of the proposed increases to provider rates Republicans and Democrats successfully tacked on during the Legislature’s final days.

If that happens, providers will still see a historic boost in Medicaid reimbursements. But industry advocates say anything less than what lawmakers agreed on risks keeping community services operating at a loss.

“As with all businesses, costs have increased for Medicaid providers at an unusually high inflation rate,” said Mary Windecker, executive director of the Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana, in a Thursday email. “Since 2019, numerous services for children and adults have closed because of the low rates and will need to be reopened at a higher cost. The additional money allocated by Sen. Fitzpatrick’s colleagues will be essential in reopening these closed programs and reversing the impact on communities of the 2017 budget cuts and the worldwide pandemic.”

Western is still making changes to services, in addition to its leadership, with a financial forecast in mind. The organization decided this month to turn a residential addiction recovery treatment program, Recovery Center Missoula, into a lower-level residential program, discharging the existing five residents and laying off eight employees in the process. RCM was the only treatment program in Missoula licensed as a 3.5 facility based on criteria from the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Rudio, the interim executive at Western, said the decision was made partly for financial reasons. But she said the adjusted licensure will allow the 16-bed facility to fill its census and shorten its existing waitlist. While the organization has not announced additional closures or program changes, Rudio did not rule out the possibility.

“I will not say that there will not be program changes as we go forward, but what I will tell you is that there are no programs we’re looking at right now in terms of eliminations or reductions,” Rudio said.

Reporter Mara Silvers can be reached at The Montana Free Press is a Helena-based nonprofit newsroom. To read the article as originally published, click here.