BILLINGS — The country is moving forward, even after the COVID-19 pandemic took lives, forced individuals and families into isolation, and created some long-lasting side-effects in our communities.
All that combined has also brought attention to more mental health issues. A recent $4 million grant and some dedicated community entities are working to reverse that "COVID trend."
Lenette Kosovich, CEO at Rimrock Foundation, says her team saw a 40% increase in mental health and substance use referrals in the last year, and calls to Montana’s suicide hotline doubled.
Now Rimrock is implementing a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) thanks to a new $4 million federal grant.
“It’s a model of care where you have to address every single aspect of a person's life, physical health, their addiction, their mental health, their housing, their transportation, their relationships. Everything that could negatively affect their wellbeing,” said Kosovich.
This model is designed to create access, stabilize people in crisis, and provide treatment for those with the most serious, complex mental illnesses and addictions.
"It stops the episodic treatment of substance abuse or mental illness, and we look at you as an entire person, what is causing these things. And by the way, we're gonna also offer some effective treatment for you to get you to a place where you want to be," Kosovich said.
Kosovich recently testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Health Care Subcommittee, where Montana Sen. Steve Daines is the ranking Republican.
“Since the pandemic, lockdowns, economic hardships, and social isolation have only helped intensify what we already know – we need mental health services in our communities, and we need to make it a priority," Daines said.
Data shows in January, 41% of American adults reported they were struggling with anxiety and depression. That’s up from 11% before the pandemic. And Montana is certainly not immune. Daines points to information showing Montana is fourth in the nation for suicides.
He also mentioned children in foster care. Kosovich dug into that a little deeper.
“Montana ranks number one in children in foster care, 65% of those children that are removed from foster care have parental use issues, meaning their parents are using illegal drugs," she said, adding, "How is that acceptable, how can we keep doing that?”
The plan behind these clinics digs roots deep in the community by coordinating with schools, crisis centers and law enforcement. And the clinics must guarantee specific services like a 24/7 mobile crisis team, and a primary care provider for each patient.
Dr. Megan Littlefield, from RiverStone Health, said this type of model works.
“Historically, we have always separated, mental health care and physical, medical care into two separate buckets, but the reality is that we're integrated people and those issues are often integrated together," she said. “If your mental health is not being tended to then oftentimes your physical issues and your chronic diseases are worse for the wear as well.”
RiverStone Health has combined mental healthcare along with primary care in its facility for 15 years and now plans to partner with Rimrock.
“I think the more that we can collaborate across organizations, and try and integrate those services together in our community, the better off our community is as a whole.”
The latest impact report shows thousands of new clients are being served in these clinics and nearly all of them are getting treatment within a week compared to the average national wait time of 48 days.
Kosovich said while the numbers show the success, the one thing that is hard to measure even in Montana is the cost of not moving forward.
“We can't do it alone. You know, you've heard the saying, it takes a village. This is going to take our state to do this because once we all get into the CCBHC model, and we're all rowing in that same direction. I think we're gonna make a huge difference,” she said.
The first participant will begin to take part in the full Rimrock CCBHC by June 1.
A bipartisan group in the U.S. Senate is expected to introduce legislation this month, giving every state in the country the option to take part in the program.