Montana is widespread, long on miles. Unfortunately, it’s also short on doctors and mental health care providers to serve its population. That has historically meant a lack of services in large portions of Eastern Montana, forcing people to drive sometimes hundreds of miles to get care when they need it.
As many as 52 Montana counties are considered primary health care shortage areas. Those stats get even worse when you start talking about mental health care. With the exception of a few counties, the entire state has been considered a mental health care shortage area for some time.
Among the reasons, fewer students in Montana choose health care disciplines, and those who do tend to locate in larger metropolitan areas.
There are programs that seek to address that, such as the Targeted Rural Underserved Track, which focuses on recruiting students who will want and are willing to stay and work in rural areas.
There is also, coming in June, a new service being stood up to serve Eastern Montana, the Montana Assertive Community Treatment Program, which proposes to create mobile teams that will offer a holistic approach to mental health care for up to 50 high-need clients.
The program is being stood up with the help of a $200,000 grant to the Eastern Montana Community Mental Health Center, which serves 17 counties in Eastern Montana. They will start with two MACT teams, one in Glasgow for Region 8 and one in Miles City for Region 7. Sidney and Richland County are in Region 8.
This type of program, which offers lots of wrap-around services to clients, has typically been available on the western side of the state in more metropolitan areas. That’s where most of the expertise is situated, so that’s where it’s possible to bring together such teams to offer services.
What this program will do is take that model and make it mobile, to travel to and work with clients in the more rural areas of Eastern Montana.
Individuals who qualify for the program will work with a team of professionals that includes a nurse, psychiatrist, therapist, peer support, case manager, paraprofessionals and others.
“Unlike most services, which are limited in how many services can be used per day, this service is unlimited to those who are receiving services directly from the team,” explained Amanda Brown, with the Region 7 MACT program in Miles City. “If they need to meet a therapist, peer support, and a psychiatrist all on the same day, they absolutely can.”
Sidney will be in Region 8, which won’t likely get its team until sometime in June.
Individuals who seek health care through EMCHMC will be assessed as usual, and will be considered for the MACT program based on that assessment. Those who qualify, based on their level of need for services, will then be able to access the service for as long as they need to, in order to achieve their goals.
“A lot of those who qualify for services have long-term barriers that they are utilizing the treatment for,” Brown said. “Or they are building skills to build their lives in the community. So if a person has needs that extend for several years, they can use the service the entire time if they want to.”
The case load will be kept small — 50 clients per MACT team, so 100 in all. But there is potential to expand the number of teams going forward, depending on what demand shows and how successful the program is.
“At this time, the state just wants to get a better feel for what extent that need exists, before looking at expanding,” Brown said.
The teams will also work within existing community relationships to help people.
“It’s a holistic approach, so there is a lot of room for community partnerships and support,” Brown said. “The team is not going to be able to cover every single service a person will need, so part of that relationship with the team is going to be helping facilitate those connections.”