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Filling the void



Patty Kent doesn't see western Montana as underserved when it comes to inpatient treatment for addiction. This portion of the state, she says, is wholly un-served.

"There's absolutely no inpatient beds for addiction in western Montana," says Kent, director of housing for the Western Montana Mental Health Center. "If you need inpatient care right now, you're most likely driving to Billings."

WMMHC's effort to change that gained significant steam this week. On Jan. 23, the Missoula City Council approved a $420,000 community development block grant for a 16-bed inpatient treatment unit at the health center's Missoula campus. The project will cost $2.5 million; Kent says the grant—funded through federal HUD money—puts the center within $500,000 of its goal.

Montana presently has just two inpatient facilities for addiction treatment, the Montana Chemical Dependency Center in Butte and the Rimrock Foundation facility in Billings. Kent says both present challenges for locals, as far as affordability and proximity. According to Melissa Gordon with Missoula's Office of Planning and Grants, there's consistently a two-month waiting list at the facility in Butte and Rimrock has a mandated 28-day program that costs an average of $15,000.

Comparatively, "the program started in Missoula will have a flexible timeline, so patients can stay anywhere from three to 45 days," Gordon says. "And the average cost for a 15-day visit for folks without insurance will be just over $3,000." Kent adds that the center would employ at least 16 people, from doctors to cooks, and come with a $1 million annual payroll.

Now the project enters an intensive fundraising campaign, one Kent feels will be bolstered by the city's recent action. The block grant requires that the new inpatient unit devote roughly half its services to uninsured and low-income patients. Kent hopes that requirement will act as a guarantee for private donors and foundations that their money is going to a good cause. And if all goes well, these beds will merely be the first phase in filling the void.

"We are ultimately hoping to develop a larger facility, which would involve completely renovating the historic hospital at Fort Missoula," Kent says. That, she says, would be a roughly 40-bed facility.


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