Every day "Jake" is seen in order to receive his medications through the Center for Mental Health. He is followed closely by a psychiatrist, nurse, therapist, as well as case manager throughout the week. "Jake" has a severe, debilitating mental illness called Schizophrenia. The treatment he receives at the Center for Mental Health is critical. Before he obtained care at the Center for Mental Health he was homeless after recently being discharged from a psychiatric hospital out of state. He had arrived in town by bus without any food, shelter and the clothes on his back, no medication and no Medicaid.

One in four Americans suffers from mental illness. That means you, undoubtedly, know someone whose life is affected by a mental health condition.

The state of Montana has announced that cuts are very probable due to reduced revenue estimates. For the Center for Mental Health, these proposed changes affect the 3,400 clients served in 13 counties. About two-thirds of the clients at the Center for Mental Health are on Medicaid.

If the proposed cuts to Medicaid are implemented, “Jake" may once again go without the crucial mental health care he needs to maintain independence in the community.

At the Center for Mental Health, a regionally-based private nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, we serve those with debilitating mental illness. These are people you likely know, too: your dog groomer and your maintenance workers. They are veterans who suffer deep and often invisible wounds. They include our children, our in-laws, our friends and our neighbors.

However, the discussions around health care and cuts to Medicaid at the state and federal level have been reduced to faceless statistics. In reality, these cuts will have a devastating impact on our community, on our neighbors, on those who are most vulnerable.

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The economic cost of treating mental health disease is greater than cancer, heart disease and diabetes. This disease does not discriminate, everyone is affected.

The state of Montana has proposed additional cuts published in the balancebudgetmt.gov. This document proposed the elimination of a core safety net service of case management in adult and children behavioral health services. Case management assists those with a mental illness or addiction in maintaining their recovery, employment and a place to live. Without this service those with a mental illness or addiction have a much higher chance of ending up in our ERs and jails.

Our state has the disgraceful distinction of leading the nation in suicide. We have a high rate of mentally ill residents in our jails, prisons and emergency rooms. We ask providers, consumers, advocates and the state and federal representatives to work together to implement a payment system and provider model that is in the best interest of our communities and the people who traditionally have no voice.

Sydney Blair is the Chief Executive Officer for the Center for Mental Health.

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