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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Officials detail obstacles to restoring federal funds for the State Hospital

A sign pointing to the entrances of the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs, MT.
Courtesy Montana State Hospital
Montana State Hospital
A sign pointing to the entrances of the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs, MT.

State health officials Thursday updated lawmakers on their plan to improve care at the Montana State Hospital and to apply for federal recertification in roughly 18 months.

Health officials expect the facility to be $38 million over budget this year as it deals with a heavy dependence on traveling staff and the loss of federal funding. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services pulled certification following patient deaths, blocking Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements from flowing to the state hospital.

Diane Rafferty with the consulting firm Alverez and Marsal listed several recommendations to help the state hospital work toward recertification. Among them is closing down what’s known as the Spratt unit, which serves elderly patients with severe mental health conditions.

“When you look at the facility in Lewiston for the nursing care center, it’s built for and could maybe improve the care delivery if we move those Spratt patients to the nursing care center.”

Rafferty also noted that the Spratt unit building would need substantial repairs in order to be recertified by CMS. Rafferty added that the state needs to reduce its overall dependence on the state hospital to take care of people with mental health conditions. The hospital serves as the only psychiatric hospital for adults in the state.

“This is a lofty goal, but it is very important for your state and the citizens you serve to look at, what is a regional health care delivery system?”

The state health department is asking lawmakers to approve Gov. Gianforte’s $300 million budget request to reform the state’s behavioral health system. Health department director Charlie Brereton told lawmakers he envisions utilizing a little over $100 million of that behavioral health reform fund to build two regional mental health centers to provide care for up to 100 patients.

Those centers would provide a higher level of care than community mental health services can provide, while utilizing state hospital beds for patients who need the highest level of mental health care.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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