Keila Szpaller

(Daily Montanan) The first set of funds allocated from $300 million approved this year to support behavioral health and developmental disabilities will include money to catch up on a longstanding backlog in forensic fitness evaluations at the Montana State Hospital, according to an announcement Tuesday from the Governor’s Office.

“After decades of applying Band-Aids to our broken systems and kicking the can down the road, we’re making a commitment and generational investment to get Montanans healthy,” Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a statement from his office.

The governor, a Republican, had proposed the $300 million investment in his budget, and Rep. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork, sponsored House Bill 872, carried by Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber, in the Senate.

The governor said an advisory group, the bipartisan Behavioral Health System for Future Generations Commission, recommended the first couple of initiatives, worth up to $17.5 million altogether:

  • The first initiative, representing up to $7.5 million, will fund the completion of court-ordered forensic fitness evaluations at the county level. There are currently few options for court-ordered forensic fitness evaluations in Montana, with most conducted by one psychiatrist at the state hospital. “This investment will boost the number of professionals qualified to perform these evaluations in our communities, and alleviate a growing backlog at the state hospital,” the governor said.
  • The second initiative, representing up to $10 million, will provide one-time grants to community providers offering behavioral health care or developmental disability services to Montanans. Once awarded, the grants may be used to help purchase or construct new facilities, upgrade and maintain existing facilities, and hire and train staff to increase bed capacity.

“I thank the commission for advancing its recommendation and look forward to its impact on the delivery of behavioral health care in Montana,” Gianforte said.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday afternoon when the work would begin to take place on the ground.

The Commission recommends investments to stabilize behavioral health and developmental disabilities service providers; increase and strengthen the workforce to provide critical care to those in need; increase availability of integrated physical and behavioral health care; and support the establishment of behavioral health settings and intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

“We want Montanans to have access to the care they need in their communities,” Gianforte said. “With this investment, we’ll expand community-based behavioral health care and developmental disability services to better serve Montanans.”

The commission is chaired by Rep. Keenan and Charlie Brereton, director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for mid-January.