HAMILTON – Rep. Ron Ehli, R-Hamilton, believes the most successful mental health care happens in the communities where patients live.
When the Montana Legislature gets underway, Ehli will introduce three bills focused on creating stable funding sources to build new local mental health care crisis centers, add secure psychiatric detention beds and help with short-term voluntary mental health treatment.
Ehli said he made his decision to sponsor the legislation after deciding the governor’s proposed approach to addressing mental heath care needs in the state was too focused on institutions at the state level.
“There’s been a lot of focus on health care in general over the last couple of years and mental health care in particular,” Ehli said. “Over the years, Montana has been falling behind.”
Ehli said he’s been encouraged in the manner that the community came together in Hamilton to address the mental health care challenge with the opening of the West House Crisis Center about five years ago.
In that case, Ehli said former state Rep. Ron Stoker carried the legislation that provided the funding. Stoker received a good deal of support at the time from Ravalli County commissioners Kathleen Driscoll and Carlotta Grandstaff, he said.
Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital donated the land, the county maintains the building and the state provided much of the funding to build it.
“It’s a good model,” Ehli said. “It forces all the entities to come together. Everyone is impacted by the mental health care. Everyone needs a little skin in the game.”
One of the bills would provide additional funding for matching grants to build new crisis centers in the state.
Once Helena completes construction on its mental health crisis center, there will be five facilities scattered around Montana.
“We need more of these types of facilities across the state, especially in eastern Montana,” Ehli said. “When you can address mental health issues in the community where the patient lives, it’s almost becomes of a preventative type of thing.”
“The outcomes of cases tend to be better when patients are close to home, where they can be supported by people they know,” he said. “It’s almost always better when you are able stabilize the crisis locally instead of sending people off to the state hospital.”
Ehli expects support from the state associations representing sheriffs and county attorneys.
“We’re pretty excited about this,” Ehli said. “We may butt heads with the governor on it. It’s not that he’s not focused on mental health issues, but sometimes we are just at odds with the executive branch in where the dollars need to be focused.
“We feel that we need to work hard at developing more community-based health care,” he said.