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Sen. Edie McClafferty

Sen. Edie McClafferty, D-Butte

Montana communities would be able to apply for state grants to fund mobile crisis intervention units if a bill heard Thursday by the state House Human Services Committee advances.

House Bill 660 carried by Rep. Joel Krautter, R-Sidney, calls for $500,000 from the state general fund to pay for the grant program through the state Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) for two years. The bill would allow individual grants of up to $125,000, though local governments must match the state’s grant money dollar for dollar.

Krautter and Sen. Edie McClafferty, D-Butte, who originally requested the bill, told the committee the grant program would help reduce Montanans’ reliance on law enforcement and hospital staff when dealing with a mental health crisis.

“We know that when there is nonexistent or inadequate crisis care, costs will go up because of hospital re-admissions, overuse of law enforcement and human tragedies,” Krautter told the committee Thursday. “Our current approach to crisis care is built on a patchwork and delivers minimal care, allowing people to have multiple re-admissions, fall into our criminal justice system, or result in a death by suicide.”

Montana’s rate of death by suicide was the highest in the nation in 2017 at 28.9 per 100,000 residents, a figure more than double the national average, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control. Speakers at Thursday’s meeting also talked of the need for local crisis response in rural communities like Krautter's. 

“It’s a struggle out there on services,” Krautter said.

Bill supporters Thursday included representatives from the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the state National Alliance on Mental Illness Montana chapter.

Gary White of American Legion of Montana mentioned the state’s rate of suicide among veterans, which according to DPHHS has reached levels more than double that of Montana’s non-veterans in recent years.

“If this will prevent the suicide or an emotional event for one veteran, it is well worth the money (that is) spent,” White said.

Jennifer Fauque told the committee of the humiliation she felt at being handcuffed by law enforcement while being taken into protective custody during a mental health crisis years ago.

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“I was ashamed and I felt like my dignity was stripped,” said Fauque, who called Krautter’s bill “amazing" and also talked of the lengthy wait for care she experienced after being taken to a hospital.

Saturday marks day 60 of the Legislature’s 90-day session, with Medicaid expansion still looming. Krautter and McClafferty agreed that they aren’t worried about the bill falling by the wayside between now and the beginning of May, pointing to its 20 House and 19 Senate co-sponsors.

“It’s for everybody in the state of Montana, small communities, large communities,” McClafferty said Friday. “Because suicide and mental illness is an issue throughout the whole state of Montana, and this is a solution.”

If you or a loved one is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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