Missoulians experiencing a mental health crisis have someone to call — 988 — someone to see — the mobile support team — and will soon have a place to go as a new crisis reception center opens later this month .
Once renovations are complete in late November, the 16-bed Riverwalk Crisis Center will be open 24/7, providing adults experiencing a mental health crisis with assessment, treatment and short-term connection to resources.
On Monday, dozens of people from local governments, nonprofits, and medical and mental health organizations filled the renovated building off Wyoming Street to celebrate its upcoming opening, more than three years in the making.
“It’s a big deal to be here right now,” Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick told the crowd. “No entity can do this alone. This is proof of what happens when we come together.”
Missoula County worked with Western Montana Mental Health, Providence Montana and a coalition of other organizations to open the center and fill a gap in behavioral health services, said Colleen Rudio, Western’s interim CEO.
“It is a real honor for all those who stepped up to create this space and fill it with those who need care, support and to be respected,” he said.
While Missoula has the mobile support team to respond to crisis calls, those individuals often need a place to go that isn’t the jail or the emergency room, Slotnick said.
At Providence St. Hospital Patrick, about 30% of avoidable emergency department stays are behavioral health related, Jeremy Williams, director of psychiatric services, told the Montana Free Press last week.
Many people struggle to navigate the “fragmented” mental health system and face long waiting lists to see a prescriber or therapist, Williams said. Riverwalk provides assessments, therapy, peer support, crisis observation, medication prescription and connections to ongoing support. Staff will link clients to services such as health insurance, substance use treatment or counseling, and refer them to other resources, Williams said.
The center will have a soft opening, with law enforcement and the mobile support team bringing in the first customers, said Ann Douglas, Riverwalk manager. Once it is fully operational, people can go to the center for help.
Clients can stay up to 24 hours at Riverwalk, located on the campus of the Western Montana Mental Health Center. People under the influence of drugs or alcohol can receive services as long as they are medically stable.
The center has space for clients to meet with family and practice spiritual or cultural customs, Williams said. Providence and Western worked with people with experience navigating mental health services to design the center to have a healing, sexual and cultural environment, he said.
Douglas said she is excited about opening the center and meeting people in crisis “at the level that I am.”
“I think it’s something Missoula needs, the next level of care, and it’s something the community has been asking for,” he said.
The need for a crisis reception center was identified in a gap analysis commissioned about four years ago by the Missoula Strategic Alliance for Improved Behavioral Health, Williams told MTFP. The study reviewed what mental health resources Missoula lacked and found a crisis center that each day could help about 20 people stabilize, plan for safety and connect with other services, he said.
Members of the strategic alliance decided that the county, the Western Montana Mental Health Center and Providence would lead the crisis center project, Williams said. After the difficulty of finding a site for the center, Western proposed to renovate its former day treatment building.
Missoula County contributed about $1 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money and about $500,000 in other funding to help cover initial costs. The center will bill Medicaid and insurance, but clients can receive services regardless of insurance coverage, Williams said.
West will employ staff of therapists, peer support, care coordinators, nurses, crisis stabilization workers and security. Riverwalk manager Douglas is employed by Providence Montana, which received a grant from the Providence Well Being Trust to pay the first year of his salary, Williams said. An advisory board will help guide the center and ensure it meets its goals, he said.
“It’s going to be a unique situation, but we find it’s so difficult now when you’re trying to do services as a community just to look at an organization and say, ‘Take this,'” he said. “There’s really so much collaboration to make sure we do the best in our community and to manage the risk that comes with these things.”
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