Behavioral Health Coalition kicks off

Longtime community need meets progress

There will soon be a door to open. A consistent place to go for help. It is a huge deal when research becomes action; when an initiative becomes a partnership. A recent announcement at the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce Eggs and Issues event means that the residents of Big Sky will soon have access to increased behavioral health services.

As founding board member of Women in Action Ania Bulis, who serves as vice chairperson of the Moonlight Community Foundation, noted, the vastness and urgency of the issue in the community demands collaboration.

The newly created Big Sky Behavioral Health Coalition is composed of founding partners Bozeman Health, Western Montana Mental Health Center-Gallatin and Yellowstone Club Community Foundation.

An additional partnership was recently established between Bozeman Health and Madison Valley Medical Center to collaborate to expand and improve the behavioral health services available through Big Sky Medical Center, according to a press release.

“The collaboration is timely, as Ennis, Big Sky, West Yellowstone, Bozeman and communities throughout the region continue to address impacts of COVID-19 on communities, families, and businesses,” the press release noted. “The combination of health concerns, economic uncertainty, and social isolation is leading to significant increases in the need for behavioral health services.”

There was nearly a 700% increase in the numbers of people deemed to have met the criteria for serious mental health distress during the pandemic.

Ciara Wolfe, newly-named Vice President of Philanthropy for the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation, will lead the effort by overseeing donor impact and working with community partners. A behavioral health coalition director will be hired to oversee the development of health and wellness programs and direct community outreach. There will also be an office for the foundation in the Town Center.

Soon, residents will be able to get diagnostic assessments, medication recommendations and management, outpatient therapy, substance use screenings, brief interventions and referrals. There will be group therapy, counseling for substance misuse, after-hour emergency telepsychiatry and crisis intervention, crisis response and stabilization.

All of this is coming on the heels and in response to a solid year of work and research for Paul “Buz” Davis and his team of two journalists. Every interview with a community leader, a nonprofit director, or a business owner led to more conversations with more people who cared. It is a topic that hits home. Mental health and substance abuse disorders are prevalent in the area, with nearly endless evidence provided within the folds of a 60 page document “Big Sky Behavioral Health Initiative'' – an effort that Davis, owner of Davis & Associates, funded himself. Over sixty individuals were consulted – and those are just the ones that were willing to be named. He noted “lack of services, access issues and a universal understanding that Big Sky is missing a clear structure to its systems of care.”

Davis has connected the dots for communities his entire working life and his effort to help Big Sky has been a labor of love.

“The coronavirus pandemic has really highlighted the importance of community and connection, two aspects of mental health that are crucial to wellbeing,” he wrote. “It has been remarkable watching people come together to help their neighbors.” For that to be happening on a larger scale and with mental health and substance use disorders as the focus, brings meaning to his work.

“I’ve worked in a lot of places that are trying to legislate for universal mental health care. That’s really what we’re creating here! And it’s particularly unique to have it done with private philanthropic support and not rely on government,” said Maureen Womack, System Director of Behavioral Health, Bozeman Health.

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