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Missoula’s new Crisis Intervention Team looks to data, outcomes with new grant

A suite of grants directed toward mental health and incarceration in Missoula could fund the data collection needed to improve the way law enforcement responds to crisis situations, and help the homeless obtain housing.

Missoula County this week signed a number of agreements with community providers who look to deploy funding provided by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services across a range of issues.

The grants include $65,000 to fund a mental health coordinator at Partnership Health Center, and $66,000 for an outreach coordinator at the Western Montana Mental Health Center.

But it’s an $80,000 grant to the city and county that got local mental health advocates talking this week. The funding, good through this fiscal year, will provide the data analyst needed to track Missoula’s fledgling Crisis Intervention Team.

And that, said CIT program manager Theresa Williams, is all about outcomes.

“We need to have the data and we need to make data-informed decisions,” said Williams. “This is something we should be doing at the beginning of a program – evaluating, researching and planning all of those pieces so we know we’re effective.”

The city and county of Missoula last spring took efforts to reform the way law enforcement responds to calls involving mental health issues. The resulting Crisis Intervention Team, run through the Missoula Fire Department, now applies law enforcement more strategically and brings behavioral health experts into the mix.

While the team has been up and running for roughly a year, the effort still lacks the data collection needed to track results. Looking at the CIT program as a whole, Williams said questions still linger over how well CIT officers are trained and what kind of outcomes the program has netted, among other things.

“It’s so important we have a single point of contact working across those agencies that have CIT trained officers and evaluate that our training is actually making a difference on the population,” said Williams. “When we have someone in a behavioral health crisis, are we dispatching the right resources? What does that looks like in outcomes?”

Williams said the CIT program overlaps with a number of other programs, including 911 and the mobile support team. The data collected by the analyst could inform decisions and changes across the board.

The program will work with the University of Montana, Williams added.

“They’re the experts in data,” she said. “The university is going to package this for us – what kind of data system we need to use and what the data elements are that we need to collect. Once we hire this data analyst, the university will have set them up with everything they need.”

The grants also include $105,000 to fund clinicians as part of the mobile support team, and another $64,000 to hire a tenancy support specialist at Partnership Health Center.

“Partnership Health will be working with folks in the temporary safe outdoors spaces, and they’ll be working to help them obtain and retain permanent housing,” said Terry Kendrick, the county’s special project’s coordinator. “Once they are housed, they’ll be helping them make sure they have the resources and services they need to retain that housing.”