Montana's first psychiatry residency program will launch at Billings Clinic, bringing trained psychiatric medical professionals to rural Eastern Montana.
Operational costs for the program will be paid for in part by the Helmsley Charitable Trust, which is funding the program's first three years at Billings Clinic with a $3 million grant.
The Helmsley Charitable Trust's Rural Healthcare Program is based in South Dakota, and focuses on creating and supporting programs that build a strong professional medical workforce in the seven states of the upper Midwest, including Montana.
Montana, which has the highest suicide rate in the nation, is one of three states that has no psychiatry residency program. The others are Alaska and Wyoming.
Montana has seven psychiatrists for every 100,000 residents. The number should be at 14 or above, said Walter Panzirer, a trustee with the Helmsley Charitable Trust. As a result, quality mental health care in Montana has lagged behind the rest of the nation.
"It needs to be addressed because it's going to show up in other areas of the hospital," Panzirer said.
Resources invested in mental health end up benefiting nearly every other area of health care, he said. Smart and effective access to good mental health services typically results in less traffic through the emergency room, shortened hospital stays and better interactions between patients and staff, along with other health benefits.
Billings Clinic's program will be a regional track of the University of Washington Psychiatry Residency Training Program.
"This is a transformational effort that will bring much-needed mental health resources to our region while training the next generation of highly-skilled psychiatrists," Billings Clinic CEO Dr. Randall Gibb said in a statement. "This would not be possible without the generous support and shared commitment to rural health care of the Helmsley Charitable Trust. Together, we will continue to strengthen mental health care in our region in order to meet the needs of our most vulnerable populations."
The four-year residency will start with three residents, who will get hands-on training and experience. Each year the program will add three new residents for a total of 12 residents across all four years of the residency curriculum. The program hopes to appeal to psychiatry residents who have a strong desire to serve in rural areas.
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After completing medical school, residents will spend their first two years in Seattle, and complete the final two years practicing at Billings Clinic. Clinic psychiatrist Dr. Julie Kelso will serve as program director.
She wants these residents to be "change agents" in the small communities they serve, working to improve people's lives.
The residency will bring psychiatrists to rural communities, adding to community-based systems of mental health care and working with professionals there to develop innovative approaches to needed psychiatric care.
Residents will be integrated into Billings Clinic Psychiatric Services, which includes Montana’s largest outpatient psychiatric practice, a 44-bed inpatient psychiatric unit serving children and adults, and the state’s most comprehensive behavioral health team made up of 12 psychiatrists, five nurse practitioners and one physician assistant.
The Helmsley Charitable Trust has partnered with Billings Clinic for years, in large part because Helmsley gets the results it wants.
"They deliver," Panzirer said. "Billings Clinic thinks outside the box. They're doing what's best for the community."
In 2014, Billings Clinic and the Helmsley Charitable Trust launched an internal medicine residency program with the goal of attracting talented doctors to rural corners of the region.
Both Panzirer and Gibb talked about how successful the program has been. That success led to the current psychiatric initiative, which has the same goal of attracting talented psychiatrists to small Montana communities.
"We will keep these psychiatrists local," Gibb said. "People are suffering. People need help."