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BSMC introducing behavioral health programs to Big Sky

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Big Sky Medical Center is a critical access hospital that has been serving Big Sky since 2013. PHOTO COURTESY OF BOZEMAN HEALTH

Local philanthropy to serve as foundational driving force


By Michael Somerby

BIG SKY – Four years ago, a longtime community goal was realized when Bozeman Health Big Sky Medical Center opened its doors to the Big Sky community, not only reducing patients’ costly commutes to Bozeman for emergency medical care but also ushering in a wave of primary care at the fingertips of those lucky enough to call the small mountain hamlet home.

Therefore 2015, by some estimates, was the year Big Sky budded into the strong community it is today, tacking medical services onto three other essential pillars of community: a thriving school system, varied public art offerings and a sense of livability.

“The best partner the community has in Montana is Bozeman Health,” said Loren Bough, a member of the Big Sky Medical Center Community Council and vice president of the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation’s Board of Directors. “They made a $25 million investment into facilities and an ongoing commitment to operate them, and they’ve exceeded in every aspect their promises. It’s been a big game changer.”

Now, Bozeman Health Big Sky Medical Center is growing its role in response to calls to make behavioral health programs in Big Sky a priority, working to raise some $1 million in philanthropically sourced funding to kick-start programs at the facility.

Amy Frey, RN treats a patient in the Big Sky Medical Center Emergency Department. PHOTO COURTESY OF BOZEMAN HEALTH

“Due to our nonprofit status, [Bozeman Health is] required to conduct formal, highly technical surveys once every three years for each of the hospitals that we lead,” said Jason Smith, chief advancement officer for Bozeman Health and the Bozeman Health Foundation. “The results of a 2017 survey were released in 2018 and the No. 1 community need in both Bozeman and Big Sky was behavioral health services.”

The road to the $1 million goal is well underway, with over $300,000 in gifts and pledges earmarked for Big Sky programming, and more than $200,000 of that sum inspired by a $350,000 challenge grant awarded to BSMC by the Charles and Peggy Stephenson Family Foundation.

Steve and Robin Stephenson, Big Sky locals, philanthropists son and daughter-in-law to Charles and Peggy, are spearheading that grassroots effort with others like Loren and Jill Bough, and the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation was the first to answer the call putting up a generous $150,000 for the Stephenson Foundation to match.

“The key to the foundation is that it’s run specifically for the benefit of the communities we live in,” Steve Stephenson said. “Community partners like the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation are essential in making the three year matching grant of $350,000 possible.”

The $350,000 grant will bring Integrated Behavioral Health to the facility, including adding a licensed clinical social worker to the BSMC team to provide direct on-site behavioral health care. Gifts toward the challenge will support telepsychiatry, increased crisis response capabilities and community-based education, suicide prevention and stigma reduction programs.

“We are currently at a time where people are starting to talk more about mental health and the overall effect that it has on us, not just mentally but physically too,” said Lauren Brendel, system director of marketing and communications for Bozeman Health. “Oftentimes you’ll find that when people face mental health or behavioral health complexities, that will often manifest itself in their physical health. And that’s why IBH is so critical.”

“Instead of giving you a business card or sending you away, we’ll now be able to do a warm handoff to a licensed clinical social worker who can have a first and subsequent behavioral health conversations with you,” Smith echoed.

Jeremy Mitchell, DO provides primary care to a patient at Big Sky Medical Center. Dr. Mitchell is one of six providers caring for the Big Sky Community and surrounding areas. PHOTO COURTESY OF BOZEMAN HEALTH

The two remaining prongs of a three-part strategy include telepsychiatry—an emerging industry standard in enhancing emergency and crisis response—and reducing stigma within the community while providing the tools to recognize and combat signs of behavioral health struggles in a number of arenas.

“Thanks to support from the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation, we’ve enrolled every ninth grader at Lone Peak High School in a program called ‘Youth Aware of Mental Health’ and that’s giving those students a firsthand understanding of what behavioral health is, along with giving them personal coping skills in the event that they should need them or when they’re dealing with friends or peers who might be facing some of those challenges.”

Thinking big picture, addressing behavioral health needs in a community not only improves the lives of patients receiving that crucial aid, but also reduces the prevalence of suicide—an epidemic in ski communities, particularly in young males, with Montana leading the nation in suicides per capita.

“We want to make kids and the community aware that there’s help out there, for everything from drugs and alcohol to behavioral and suicidal issues,” Stephenson said. “This is our community, and it’s something that we’re really excited to be addressing and getting people the help they need.”

Visit for more information on the organization’s continued dedication to the Big Sky community.

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