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Western Montana Mental Health Center to suspend two-thirds of its crisis beds

Western Montana Mental Health Center
Eric Whitney
Western Montana Mental Health Center

One of the largest mental health providers in Montana is suspending operation of 31 of its crisis beds — two thirds of its total number of beds. The mental health providers say they can’t make enough money to break even.

Western Montana Mental Health Center is suspending beds in Polson, Bozeman, Kalispell and Butte and will continue to operate 16 beds in Missoula and Hamilton. CEO Levi Anderson said the organization is making tough financial decisions to stay afloat.

“The current reimbursement environment has made it such that we can no longer continue to operate those services,” Anderson said.

A study commissioned by lawmakers in 2021 found that the state underpays Medicaid providers, like Western Montana Mental Health Center, by tens of millions of dollars.

Anderson says an increase in provider rates could help Western Montana Mental Health Center resume full operation of its crisis stabilization program. But he says that will only be a bandaid if there aren’t changes to the way providers are reimbursed for crisis services, which is currently a fee-for-service model.

“It’s the equivalent of having a fire department only get paid or reimbursed if they respond to a structure fire,” he said.

Last week, a subcommittee of lawmakers put forth an initial spending plan that proposes increasing provider reimbursement rates to fill more than 90% of the gap identified in the study, according to data from the state health department.

Democrats argue the state should fill 100% of the gap, but Republicans say their proposal is already a historic investment in mental health care.

Lawmakers have considered a few other proposals to tackle the issue, like pushing out immediate relief dollars and creating a certified community behavioral health clinic program, but those have failed to advance.

Shaylee covers state government and politics for Montana Public Radio. Please share tips, questions and concerns at 406-539-1677 or  
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