MISSOULA - Governor Steve Bullock's budget cuts this year eliminated almost $9 million in targeted case management dollars for adults with severe disabling mental illness -- or a substance use disorder -- through cuts to the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
The Western Montana Mental Health Center, which contracts with the state to deliver services, says they were directly affected by these cuts and are the reason why the will lay off 16 Missoula County case managers and aids, effective Jan. 2.
The Montana Mental Health Workers Union that represents these employees filed multiple complaints this week about unfair labor practices against Western Montana Mental Health for failure to bargain in good faith, according to their organizer Mark Anderlik.
Dozens of people gathered earlier this week to picket in front of WMMHC administrative building on Russell Street.
Organizers say their newly-formed union is gathering steam after state budget cut discussions this summer and fall prompted layoffs and uncertainty among case managers and community-based rehab workers.
Organizers told MTN News that more complaints would be filed this week for the mental health center's failure to bargain in good faith. The caseworkers say their concerns are larger than whether or not they will get a severance package.
They also want to be a part of what happens next at the Western Montana Mental Health Center as critical case management services go away and hundreds of people are now without their care.
"We have written editorials, testified, and attended legislative sessions to explain to the State what the cuts would mean to community mental health centers, their clients and their staff if the budgets cuts went through," said Western Montana Mental Health Center in a statement. "Unfortunately, the cuts were made anyway, and we are now in a place that none of us wanted to be.
The Center says they are planning to transition the people who will now be left without their case managers into group treatment programs.
But Lisa Leon, a community-based rehabilitation worker who just got notified that she was laid off, said group solutions are not really workable for the clients they are supposed to serve, and that this community could see an increase in crisis situations like suicide attempts and homelessness once they lose their in-home and community-based care.