Missoulians experiencing a mental health crisis have someone to call — 988, someone to show up — the Mobile Support Team — and soon they’ll have somewhere to go, as a new crisis center opens later this month.
Once renovations are complete in late November, the 16-bed Riverwalk Crisis Center will be open 24/7, providing short-term assessment, treatment and connection to resources for adults experiencing mental health crises.
Dozens of people from local government, nonprofits and medical and mental health organizations packed into the renovated building on Wyoming Street on Monday to celebrate its upcoming opening, more than three years in the making.
“It’s a huge deal to be here at this time,” Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick told the crowd. “Nobody can do it alone. This is a testament to 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 the gap in behavioral health services, said Colleen Rudio, Western’s interim executive director.
“It’s a real honor for everyone who took the initiative to create this space and who will fill it with those who need care, support and respect,” he said.
While Missoula has a mobile support team to respond to crisis calls, those individuals often need a place to go that isn’t a jail or an emergency room, Slotnick said.
At Providence St. Patrick Hospital, about 30% of emergency room avoidance opportunities 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 will provide assessments, therapy, peer support, crisis observation, medication prescribing and connection to ongoing support. Staff will connect clients with services such as health insurance, substance abuse treatment or counseling and refer them to other resources, Williams said.
The center will have a soft opening where law enforcement and a mobile support team will bring in the first customers, Riverwalk Manager Anne Douglas said. Once it is fully up and running, people can come 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 sober.
Williams noted that the center offers opportunities for clients to meet with family and practice spiritual or cultural practices. Providence and Western worked with people experienced in navigating mental health services to create the center to be a healing, gender- and culturally affirming environment, she said.
Douglas said he’s excited about opening the center and meeting people in crisis “at the level they’re at.”
“I think that’s something that Missoula needs, that next level of care, and that’s what the community has asked for,” he said.
The need for the crisis intake 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 lacks and found that the crisis center can help about 20 people each day stabilize, plan for safety and connect with other services, he said.
Members of the strategic alliance decided that the county, Western Montana Mental Health Center and Providence would lead the crisis center project, Williams said. After struggling to find space for the center, Western proposed renovating its former day treatment building.
Missoula County has committed about $1 million in federal American Rescue Program Act (ARPA) money and about $500,000 in other funding to help cover upfront costs. “The center will pay for Medicaid and insurance, but clients can receive services regardless of insurance coverage,” Williams said.
Western will employ therapists, peer support, care coordinators, nurses, crisis stabilization workers and security guards. Riverwalk manager Douglas is employed by Providence Montana, which received a grant from the Providence Well Being Trust to pay for the first year of his salary, Williams said. He said the advisory board will help guide the center and ensure it achieves its goals.
“It’s going to be a unique situation, but we’re finding it so difficult right now, when we’re trying to take ownership of services as a community, to just look at one organization and say, “You take this,” he said. “It really takes so much collaboration to make sure we’re doing the best thing in our community and managing the risk that comes with these things.”
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