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Bill to provide $300 million to state mental health services gets signed

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.

Montana’s behavioral health system will get an infusion of $300 million with the signing of a bill passed last legislative session. Behavioral health providers are still waiting to find out if they’ll receive a long-awaited pay increase.

Gov. Greg Gianforte signed House Bill 872 Thursday, calling it a “generational investment.” The governor proposed the spending for mental health services before the session began amid a roughly $2.5 billion budget surplus.

In the first round of funding, the state will make available $70 million for community behavioral health providers and another $75 million specifically for capital projects, like improvements to the Montana State Hospital, the state’s only psychiatric treatment facility for adults. The hospital has lost millions in federal funding due to patient deaths.

Mary Windecker with the Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana said the impact of the money will be monumental for a system that’s been underfunded and ailing for decades.

“It is the first time that any administration has looked at creating a continuum of care in behavioral health and dedicated it exclusively to behavioral health,” Windecker said.

However, Windecker said the effectiveness of the funding will depend on how an advisory commission decides to spend it. The commission will be made up of six legislators and three governor appointees, who have not yet been named.

Behavioral health providers and advocates also hope Gianforte will sign a budget that includes an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates to cover the average cost of operating long-term care facilities, nursing homes and behavioral health services.

The budget has yet to reach Gianforte’s desk for consideration. Senate Majority Leader Steve Fitzpatrick has urged the governor to adopt a more modest increase to the rates.

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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