County, CPMC cooperate on mental health

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After Western Montana Mental Health closed down their Libby operations, the Lincoln County Health Department stepped up to fill the gaps left, creating a network of healthcare providers that could be called in to do mental health evaluations. Now, Cabinet Peaks Medical Center will be taking over the duties of providing the mental health evaluations for people in crisis at the emergency room, according to the Lincoln County Health Department.

Amy Fantozzi, Lincoln County Health Department education specialist, said the department set up the network to help people who showed up “in crisis” to the ER, in need of a mental health evaluation.

When Western Montana went away, there was a “huge gap in our system” because they were the ones who previously did all of the mental health evaluations, she said. The plan to help bring together healthcare providers to help with evaluations fully started about March of last year, she said.

Mid-August is about when the transition of duties will happen, she said. The county will still cover scenarios such as involuntary treatment.

Working with the hospital and trying to create something that would be sustainable over time, rather than a temporary way to fill the gaps Western Montana left, has been “big” over the last 18 months, she said.

The hospital is planning on doing telehealth and possibly bringing in a couple of contracted professionals for in-person evaluations, she said. That way, if the hospital does need help, they can call one of their own contracted healthcare providers “instead of us being the middleman.”

Telehealth is a way to provide “over a screen” evaluations, she said. The best option right now is telehealth because it costs too much to hire somebody and get them on staff to do just the ER mental health evaluations, she said.

“We’ll see how it works,” she said. In a lot of cases it will probably work great but, there are going to be times where the hospital is going to need to bring in an in-person mental health provider.

And if it does not work, the Health Department is always willing to help and “do what we need to do, to create something that’s going to help the community,” she said.

Jennifer McCully, Lincoln County Public Health Manager, said for the last 18 months the Health Department helped provide funding for health providers to go into the hospital and do the mental health evaluations.

“It was very short-term — a Band-Aid fix,” she said. The hospital has stepped-up to help with a sustainable solution.

Moving forward, the Health Department will continue to focus on prevention, recognition, reducing stigma around mental health and educating the community, McCully said. The Health Department still needs to focus on behavioral health and mental health as a “big picture.”

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