Gazette opinion: State grant averts crisis center crisis

2013-10-04T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: State grant averts crisis center crisis The Billings Gazette
October 04, 2013 12:00 am

When this column called for support of the Community Crisis Center two months ago, a crucial state grant was in question.

Last week, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services notified the Billings center that its request for $315,217 has been approved.

“With this money we will be able to operate through the year,” said MarCee Neary, crisis center director.

This is great news for folks throughout Montana, especially the south-central region. The grant is the same amount awarded last year and will allow the Community Crisis Center to continue providing services 24/7 to seriously mentally ill and chemically addicted adults. The money comes from a legislative appropriation to support community crisis services that reduce admissions to Montana State Hospital at Warm Springs.

The Billings center is key to meeting that goal. Yellowstone County sends fewer patients per capita to Warm Springs than any other populous county.

People who are served at the crisis center when they need help usually don’t need to be hospitalized. Preventing the need for hospitalization keeps people healthier and keeps costs down for the state.

To appreciate how large a job crisis care is in this region, consider:

 The Community Crisis Center has averaged more than 650 client visits per month so far this year.

 79 percent of clients are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

 No one is turned away because of inability to pay.

 Each client receives as many as nine services on one visit, depending on needs.

Law enforcement officers from Billings, Yellowstone County and neighboring counties regularly transport people in crisis to the center. They voluntarily receive help from mental health professionals while the officers return to patrol duty.

The crisis center networks with other local organizations. It receives support from Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare, RiverStone Health and the Mental Health Center’s 11-county board of directors. A portion of the center’s annual operating budget is covered by a tax levy approved by Yellowstone County voters. Beyond that, the center depends on grants, such as the state award, and private donations.

Nightly triage

The building at 704 N. 30th St. has a maximum capacity of 45 people. Neary said it frequently approaches maximum.

“Our 20 beds are full and we are triaging through the night,” Neary said.

“Triaging” means that if a needier client arrives, someone less needy will be asked to give up a bed. As many as six people have to be rotated out during some nights, Neary said.

Legislative support

Where would we be without the Community Crisis Center?

More seriously mentally ill people and more highly intoxicated people would be in hospitals in Billings and Warm Springs, more would be on the streets, more would be in jail and police would spend much more time with mental health calls.

Montana lawmakers created the community crisis grants in 2009. It’s important that they understand what the grants contribute to our state so they will continue to support them. We are pleased to learn that a number of lawmakers are planning to visit the Community Crisis Center. We encourage all members of the House and Senate to see the center’s work. Call Neary at 259-8800 to arrange a tour.

Along with welcome news about the crisis grant comes discouraging word of another hole in the region’s mental health safety net. That will be the subject of Monday’s Gazette opinion.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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