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Citizen Group Asks Bozeman Health To Add Inpatient Beds For Mental Health

 Protesters marched along the sidewalk in front of Deaconess Hospital to request that Bozeman Health provide inpatient psychiatric beds for those dealing with mental illness.
Protesters marched along the sidewalk in front of Deaconess Hospital to request that Bozeman Health provide inpatient psychiatric beds for those dealing with mental illness.

Demand for mental health care has increased during the pandemic, and that’s put a spotlight on access and availability of mental health services in Montana. Bozeman Health is renovating emergency rooms at Deaconess Hospital to accommodate patients in a mental health crisis. But a group of concerned citizens wants to see a dedicated unit with beds. Around 40 citizens recently protested in front of Deaconess.

Lita Keefer says her high school friends struggle with mental health, and she worries about Bozeman teens being able to access higher levels of care close to home. Some of her peers have been hospitalized for inpatient care at Shodair Children’s Hospital in Helena.

“I know for me sometimes that sort of care has felt more inaccessible because it’s something that’s a couple of hours away,” Keefer said.

Currently, there are no overnight inpatient options in Gallatin County for those under age 18. Bozeman Health’s Deaconess Hospital, the area’s primary hospital, refers adults to Hope House, which has a 10 bed capacity.

Dr. Colette Kirchhoff holds a sign that says “Health Equity.” She is a family physician and community organizer who is urging Bozeman Health to provide inpatient psychiatric care.

“We are a university town. Young people often experience their first illness as far as mental illness when they are at the age group of being at the university, and we don’t offer those services, so it’s really a crisis at this point,” Kirchhoff said.

In response to the town’s growing mental health needs, the nonprofit health system, Bozeman Health, opened up the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center last year for those who do not require emergency room care. The system is now evaluating inpatient behavioral health care as a potential option.

“Bozeman Health is actively and thoughtfully giving true and serious consideration to the introduction of inpatient behavioral health care at Deaconess Hospital,” said Jason Smith, chief advancement officer at Bozeman Health.

The health system has not yet determined a threshold for when it might introduce this kind of care. But it is working with community partners and local government to evaluate needs and monitor patient outcomes.

Smith says the emergency room typically sees around 1,000 people a year in a mental health emergency.

“About 75% of those who are in that psychiatric emergency are able to be successfully stabilized, made safe, by our emergency department,” Smith said.

The rest are treated at local partner facilities or transferred to hospitals in other parts of the state. To try to keep more patients in Bozeman, the hospital is renovating 5 rooms in its ER with recliners for psychiatric patients and will provide up to 23 hours of care.

“An improved emergency department is really important for our community, and we don’t want that progress to be lost in this larger conversation about what’s not yet being done,” Smith said.

Mental health staff has recently been added to the ER and is now providing services.

Kirchhoff says this is progress, but she and her group plan to continue advocating for inpatient beds.

Copyright 2021 Yellowstone Public Radio

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