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Missoula County eyes federal grants for mental health, overtime during pandemic

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Posted at 12:51 PM, Apr 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-13 16:20:34-04

MISSOULA — Federal funding could help Missoula County navigate the running cost of responding to the coronavirus pandemic, though things are happening so quickly, the effort remains a work in progress.

Commissioners last week signed off on two separate grants, including one that increases funding for the local COVID-19 response by $135,000.

While that’s “not a tremendous amount,” as one commissioner put it, the funding will help supplement funding from an earlier Public Health Emergency Preparedness Grant.

“This would be an addition for that,” said Leah Hickey, the county’s public health emergency coordinator. “We’re still trying to figure out whose wages can be paid with it. We know we can pay overtime with it. We’re putting everything under public health emergency preparedness for now. It’s been a crazy last month, and I’m sure this will get used up very quickly.”

Local health officials have not yet placed a dollar figure on the local response, though the question has come up often. The health department last week opened a new drive-thru test center at the fairgrounds, and commissioners have already authorized certain healthcare workers to receive overtime pay.

With costs in mind, commissioners last week also signed a letter of commitment noting their intent to comply with the specifics of a second emergency grant being pursued by the state. Funding would be earmarked for mental health and substance abuse disorders during the pandemic.

Nine Montana counties would share the funding if the state receives it, according to Erin Kautz, a grants administrator with the county.

“It’ll be roughly $2 million the state will get, and once that’s divided up, we would probably get about $135,000,” said Kautz. “That can be used for any sort of crisis response really. It would be up to us to figure out how we want to utilize it.”

Kautz said that 70% of the funding must go toward those with severe disabling mental illness or substance use disorders. Twenty percent will go to those in the general population experiencing crisis, and 10% is reserved for healthcare workers experiencing trauma from providing care.

“The feds are going to be allocating 56 of these, so it’s pretty much guaranteed that each state and territory will probably get one,” Kautz said. “They’re hoping to hear in May. It’ll be a nice addition. I think it will really help things.”

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