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As the board of directors of Western Montana Mental Health Center, we have been faced with the most difficult few months in our 40-plus-year history. We have been forced to close programs much needed in the rural areas and lay off longtime employees who have served some of the state’s most vulnerable people.

Due to the revenue shortfall, the state and Legislature have been forced to cut services to rural communities in the form of the Office of Public Assistance, Job Service and targeted case management provided by community mental health providers and to the developmentally disabled clients.

These communities have been devastated by the recent round of cuts. And we’re not done yet. We now face cuts to therapeutic adolescent group homes, Medicaid Home Support Services and Therapeutic Foster Care for children with behavioral health issues and their families.

None of us — state, Legislature, Department of Public Health and Human Services, providers, families and individuals with mental health issues — are happy about where we are right now.

Families helped through these programs are impacted daily by the care given to their children with mental and behavioral health problems. For many, these programs are the last chance before they are forced to place their children in much more expensive institutions. In many cases, the children are placed in institutions outside of Montana due to the limited available inpatient beds in Montana.

Just as it would have made absolutely no sense to cut the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a program that saves the United States over $6 billion over 10 years, it makes no sense to cut these prevention services and move these children out of their homes to a higher, and more expensive, level of care.

As a solution, we suggest that the governor’s health staff, Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services representatives, and members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, come together with providers and consumers in the behavioral health community.

Together, through the state planning process, we can create a plan for protecting our most vulnerable citizens and move the state forward with a new payment model for behavioral health based on outcomes. As long as we continue to try to fit behavioral health into the fee-for-service model, we will continue to find ourselves repeating this crisis.

It is time to work together on our collective statewide problems and craft solutions that protect our children and families for years to come.

This opinion is signed by the Western Montana Mental Health Center board of directors: Chair Jean Curtiss, Missoula County commissioner; Vice Chair Jim Fay, Silver Bow County representative; Clint Tinsley, Park County commissioner; Carol Brooker, Sanders County commissioner; Dan Sager, Powell County commissioner; Jennifer McCully, Lincoln County representative; Tom Peluso, Gallatin County representative; Gale Decker, Lake County commissioner; Claire Leonard, Madison County representative; Phil Mitchell, Flathead County commissioner; Jim Fay, Silver Bow County representative; Chris Hoffman, Ravalli County commissioner; Joe Skinner, Gallatin County commissioner; Tom Rice, Beaverhead County commissioner; and Andy Hunthausen, Lewis and Clark County commissioner.

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