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Behavioral health needs continue to grow during COVID-19 pandemic

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Bozeman Health and partners expand mental health services and redesign community crisis response


BOZEMAN — As Bozeman, Big Sky and communities throughout the region continue to address the impacts of COVID-19 on our community, families, and businesses, the combination of health concerns, economic uncertainty, and social isolation is leading to significant increases in the need for behavioral health services. This trend is consistent with what’s happening throughout the U.S.

In June, one in four in American adults were deemed to have met the criteria for serious mental distress and illness, a nearly 700 percent increase over pre-pandemic levels. The State of Montana once again has the highest suicide rate in the nation, with 29.8 suicides annually per 100,000 population.

Bozeman Health and a network of community partners active in mental health services, including Western Montana Mental Health and Gallatin Mental Health Center, Gallatin City-County Health Department, Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, and Community Health Partners have come together to form the Gallatin County Crisis Redesign Committee. Funded by a grant to Bozeman Health Foundation by Montana Healthcare Foundation, this group of health leaders is working to fully understand and improve upon the current continuum of available crisis response services in Gallatin County. Together, the committee will improve early intervention in behavioral health crises and overall mental health crisis care so that the number of crises we see locally decreases and overall wellbeing is increased. The group meets twice each month.

At the same time, building on the work of the Elevating Behavioral Health consortium and early successes in integrating new behavioral health services into its primary care, pediatrics and women’s specialists clinics, Bozeman Health has recently taken important steps forward in expanding available crisis response and mental health services for those in need:

· In March 2020, Bozeman Health began partnering with Gallatin Mental Health Center and the Help Center to open the community’s first Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC). To date, the BHUC has served nearly 100 clients in need, with 17 of them requiring intensive intervention, 35 of them continuing to receive care, and none of them requiring referral to a higher level of care outside of the community.

· In May 2020, Bozeman Health hired and placed a behavioral health crisis interventionist within the Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital emergency department. This highly trained individual collaborates with patients and available support systems to evaluate and assess a patient’s risk to themselves and others, complete and implement risk reduction and mitigation plans to ensure patient and community safety, provide crisis evaluations, and develop care plans for patients, including outpatient resources and follow-up appointments.  

· In early August 2020, to address unique and well-documented challenges facing the Big Sky community, Bozeman Health Big Sky Medical Center began implementing specialty behavioral health services, providing community members with access to a psychiatrist and a therapist. It is also continuing its efforts to place an additional full-time therapist made possible through the generosity of the Charles and Peggy Stephenson Family Foundation.

· Also in August, Bozeman Health announced that Dr. Johnathan Brigham, a psychiatrist from Johns Hopkins University, has joined Dr. Anne Thomas on the health system’s medical staff.

· In September 2020, Bozeman Health will launch its new telepsychiatry program for patients and care team members in Bozeman and Big Sky. Telepsychiatry is an innovative practice at Bozeman Health that applies telemedicine to the field of psychiatry. This term refers to the delivery of psychiatric assessment and treatment via telecommunications technology, usually video conferencing. Telepsychiatry is one of the most promising developments in our efforts to provide more patient-centered, affordable, and effective interventions for individuals who need psychiatric care 24/7.

Throughout Bozeman Health’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our number one priority has been keeping our staff, patients, and the community safe and healthy. We’re proud of the work that has been done to address behavioral health concerns and continue to be grateful to the donors and community partners who collaborate with us for the betterment of Southwest Montana.

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