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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Hundreds Losing Mental Health Services Due To State Budget Cut

Western Montana Mental Health Center website, Dec. 15, 2017.
Western Montana Mental Health Center website, Dec. 15, 2017.

State budget cuts mean about 200 clients of one of Montana’s largest mental health care providers could lose their services next month. That’s according to employees of Western Montana Mental Health Center, who say they’re losing their jobs.

Employees say they were told yesterday that they’ll be out of a job in January.

Adult case managers at the nonprofit that serves 15 counties in western and southwestern Montana unionized this fall hoping to protect their jobs, or ensure some kind of severance package if they were laid off.

The layoffs were prompted, the employees say, by actions state lawmakers and Governor Steve Bullock took to balance the state’s more than $200 million budget shortfall.

Lisa Leon works in Missoula and is one of the union leaders for mental health case managers at Western Montana Mental Health Center.

"All of us are now in panic mode to make sure our people can get to other agencies, can be taken care of, will not fall through the cracks as much as possible,” she says.

Leon says she was handed her layoff packet yesterday and told that the organization was laying off all its case managers for adult mental health services. She expects at least 15 mental health workers in Missoula to be laid off, and an unknown number more across Western Montana.

Leon says this could impact services for around 200 clients.

Lisa Leon and Cheryl Nguyen-Wishneski are case workers at the Western Montana Mental Health Center.
Credit Corin Cates-Carney
Lisa Leon and Cheryl Nguyen-Wishneski are case workers at the Western Montana Mental Health Center.

Christian Boyce is a crisis case manager for the center. He also says he was sat down yesterday and told he would be laid off in January. Boyce says he has 36 clients on his caseload. Those with severe mental health issues, he says, have a better chance of being kept on, but:

"The people that are kinda getting left out to dry, so to speak, are those people who are a little more independent and don’t need case management every day. They don’t need somebody checking in on them every day. But they still need help managing appointments and managing mental health care."

Boyce, and other employees, say workers were warned this fall of possible layoffs because of cuts to how much Montana pays Medicaid providers. Many Western Montana Mental Health Center clients rely on Medicaid to pay for their care. 

A spokesperson for the Mental Health Center declined to comment or confirm the organization’s plans to layoff workers to MTPR.

Earlier this month, Western Montana announced its board of directors hired a new CEO to lead the Missoula-based agency beginning at the end of January.

Employees say they will picket  outside the organization’s administrative building in Missoula Monday morning.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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