For the first time since 1996, adolescents with mental health issues — and their families — will have access to counseling and psychiatric services through the Billings-based community mental health center.
The South Central Montana Regional Mental Health Center will open an office Monday at 1601 Lewis Ave. that will cater to adolescents 13 and older. The Mental Health Center is leasing the space for $1,700 a month.
“Community mental health centers by definition are supposed to be providing mental health services to children,” said Barb Mettler, executive director of the Mental Health Center. “We thought it was time to get back to doing that.”
Mettler, who has been executive director since November 2012, said she was “shocked” the Mental Health Center was not providing children’s mental health services. Until now, the center has only accommodated those 18 and older.
The move is also in response to community demand. The South Central Montana Regional Mental Health Center, which serves an 11-county region with a population of more than 200,000, is one of four community mental health centers in Montana.
The Lewis Avenue office, called New View, will also accommodate adults who do not feel comfortable seeking help at the Mental Health Center.
“We have a lot of folks who are incredibly sick,” Mettler said. “Oftentimes people who are not used to being around them can be frightened, especially kids who have no idea about people who hallucinate, listen to voices and see things that are not there. We thought this might be a good place for us to introduce kids back into the center as well as make some other folks a little more comfortable.”
Expanded services will also help meet the increased client demand created by the Affordable Care Act, Mettler said.
The ACA has provide one of the largest expansions of mental health and substance use disorder coverage in a generation, by requiring that health insurance plans on the health insurance marketplaces cover mental health and substance use disorder services.
Because of the law, health plans must now cover preventive services like depression screening for adults and behavioral assessments for children at no cost. And starting this year, most plans won’t be able to deny coverage or charge more due to pre-existing health conditions, including mental illnesses.
New View will be only for clients with insurance either through the ACA, employment insurance or private insurance. The Mental Health Center board hopes the decision will help generate additional revenues.
About 75 percent of the Mental Health Center’s revenue comes from Medicaid. Most of the rest comes from the Mental Health Services Plan, a program that provides limited care to seriously mentally ill Montanans who don’t qualify for traditional Medicaid. Medicaid doesn’t cover all who are poor, and the MHSP has limited and dwindling funding.
The primary focus of the main Mental Health Center office on Avenue D is serving those with Social Security and indigents. A minority of clients are self-pay or covered by insurance.
“It’s an exciting new adventure that will strengthen the Mental Health Center,” said Bill Kennedy, chairman of the board of directors. “Bringing in new clients and adding new services will help the community as it grows.”
Kennedy also hails it as a way to diversify revenues for the nonprofit.
“For so many years we have stood hat in had, begging the state for money,” Kennedy said.
Mettler said addiction and trauma counseling will be available at New View. Eventually she hopes to add employment assistance programs as well as marriage counseling.
A marketing campaign is also in the works to let the community know about the expanded services.
“We’re kind of the best kept secret in Billings,” Mettler said. “Our hope is that if we can make people feel more comfortable at a separate location, they will come and seek us out.”