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Missoula County backs efforts to launch crisis receiving center

The Missoula City Council on Monday approved the purchase of a $173,000 ambulance for the Missoula Fire Department.

Looking to add another piece to its crisis intervention efforts and reduce use of the jail, Missoula County this week placed its support behind a grant application that would fund a crisis receiving center.

The Strategic Alliance for Improved Behavioral Health is leading the effort and now has the county’s backing. It’s seeking a grant from the Montana Healthcare Foundation to fund the center.

“These types of services exist in other places. They’ve seen a great reduction in the use of the emergency room or jail that a person isn’t quite suited for,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “It fills a hole in our community.”

The Strategic Alliance recently adopted a behavioral healthcare plan in an effort to fill gaps in Missoula’s behavioral healthcare system. Doing so, it contends, will improve Missoula’s ability to address early intervention and crisis care.

The county would also apply funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to assist in the effort.

“As a result of the Strategic Alliance’s work, Missoula County will soon have a crisis receiving center for people experiencing an emergent behavioral health need,” the county wrote in a letter to the grant selection committee. “This crisis center will help ensure people get the care they need and no longer end up in an emergency department or jail.”

Both the city and county of Missoula have made inroads in recent years to address the state’s lack of behavioral healthcare support, and they have leaned upon funding provided by ARPA to make it happen.

Among the programs, the city tipped up a new mobile support team in 2020 to provide what advocates described as an appropriate response to a behavioral health crisis. It also sought to limit the role of first responders and reduce use of the jail and emergency room, both of which cost money.

A report released last October by Partnership Health Center suggested the effort had saved taxpayers an estimated $252,000 over a six-month period.

The Strategic Alliance and Missoula County now look to launch the crisis receiving center, which would serve as another piece of the behavioral healthcare puzzle.

“Bringing a person to the emergency room or jail isn’t always appropriate,” Slotnick said. “All these behavioral health organizations have come together to make this happen. No one entity could pull it off.”