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County ponders opportunity to again ask voters for jail funds (copy)

Inmates are transferred from the courthouse across a skywalk to the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center in this IR file photo.

Lewis and Clark County decided in November to not renew an expiring seven-year contract with Western Montana Mental Health in order to hire new county workers to do the job. 

According to Kellie McBride, director of the criminal justice services department, it made more sense for those positions at the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center to be held by county staff rather than contractors. Thus, the county is in the process of finalizing job descriptions for two behavioral therapists and one case manager. 

"With contractors, their boss isn't in the detention center," McBride said. "They're somewhere else." 

McBride said the county wasn't dissatisfied with Western's services since 2014. However, the positions for mental health services at the detention center are permanent, and she said it makes more sense for there to be permanent employees doing those jobs.

These services begin with a 15-question survey of every detention center inmate that measures for mental health disorders, substance abuse and more. 

A snapshot survey of 118 individuals under the care of Lewis and Clark County showed that they all had completed the booking questionnaire. Of those, 55 self-reported a diagnosed mental illness, 24 answered yes to having suicidal ideation in the past, and 19 completed the additional suicide assessment. Of the 19 who completed the additional assessment, seven were deemed no risk, five were referred to a mental health provider and seven were placed on 24-hour watch. 

The county also contracted with Western to operate the Crisis Response Team and Our Place drop-in center for substance abuse. The county provides the building for the Journey Home, a seven bed home for crisis stabilization where people can often stay for up to two weeks, which Western operates. 

Western's contract as the Crisis Response Team provider also expired this year. McBride said a request for proposals was issued with the expectation that Western would bid on the contract again, but the county received no bids from Western or anyone else.

However, since that initial RFP for the Crisis Response Team was issued, several community organizations have expressed interest in providing the service, according to Jeni Garcin, communications and community outreach coordinator for the county. Garcin said these potential partners reported the short window wasn't long enough to prepare a proposal. In response, the county will soon issue another RFP for the service.  

The contract for Western to provide services at Our Place is set to expire on June 30, 2020. County officials do not know if Western will continue that service after the contract expires but are operating under the assumption that the company will not. 

The Journey Home isn't under contract with the county and Garcin said the county's only connection to it is the building, which the county provides at no cost to Western. Western could not be reached to comment on whether it will continue to provide that service or any of the others. 

In the interim, community organizations such as the Center for Mental Health and St. Peter's Health are stepping in to provide temporary contract work to ensure continuity of service, said McBride. 

"We've been impressed with how the community has stepped up to help the county during this exit," McBride said. "The county is absolutely committed to ensuring mental health needs are met." 

Moving forward, county officials believe that providing mental health services via in-house employees will be for the best. McBride said it "keeps it cleaner" and noted "the county can keep track of all of their training, continuing education, etc." 

"We always look at what is most efficient and effective," Garcin said. "How we can do things better."

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