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The Gallatin County Commission this week ended its contract with Western Montana Mental Health Center, which operates the Gallatin Mental Health Center and the Hope House.

In two letters sent Monday to WMMHC, County Attorney Marty Lambert and the county commissioners cited WMMHC breaching its contract with the county to provide mental health services at the Hope House “on multiple occasions.”

Effective after 15 business days, the notice of termination ends a decade-long contract between WMMHC and the county to provide services at the Hope House.

For more than a decade, WMMHC has operated the Hope House and Gallatin Mental Health Center. The mental health services provided by WMMHC, including counseling and outpatient care, are partially funded by a contract with the county.

The county spends nearly $29,500 a month for WMMHC to operate the Hope House and other services, including a crisis response team.

Under its contract with the county, WHMMC is required to have at least one emergency detention bed available.

County Attorney Marty Lambert said the decision came after months of intermittent closures of the Hope House — which provides the only emergency detention for those in mental health crises in Gallatin County.

In 2020 and 2021, the Hope House faced closures of its secure emergency detention. The emergency detention is reserved for people suffering from mental health crises who are brought in by law enforcement or need to be detained before seeing a judge.

When there are no beds available, deputies drive the patient to another WMMHC facility, or to the state psychiatric hospital in Warm Springs.

Lambert said the “voluntary side” of Hope House — which has eight short-term beds — was also unreliable and often closed during December.

“The issue has been the failure to have the one detention bed open and now we have had the repeated failure of Western to have the transition beds, the voluntary beds open,” Lambert said.

Levi Anderson, the CEO of WMMHC, said ongoing staffing shortages, exacerbated by the pandemic, has resulted in reduced capacity at the Hope House.

Anderson said the contract termination is only for services related to the Hope House and a crisis response team, but his goal is to continue those services without county funding.

Other services provided at the Gallatin Mental Health Center will continue, he said.

“Our goal is to ensure those services remain available to residents of Gallatin County,” Anderson said.

Anderson said WMMHC would work with the county and Bozeman Health on next steps to come to a “mutual resolution.” He declined to speculate on what that may look like.

Receiving the termination letter on Monday was a “surprise,” Anderson said.

“For the county and hospital to discount the contribution that Western has made for the last 10 years is, I think, really disappointing,” he said.

With the contract ending, Lambert said people in crisis will be taken to the emergency room at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital.

Bozeman Health was already feeling the impacts of WMHHC “instability” and the emergency department was making “adjustments” to meet the need, spokesperson Lauren Brendel said in an email.

Since Jan. 3, the hospital has seen 22 behavioral health patients. That’s compared to 28 visits for the entire month of October, she wrote.

The hospital is also working to open psychiatric emergency services unit within Deaconess Hospital’s emergency department in the fall, Brendel said.

In late 2021, Bozeman Health made an offer to purchase the WMMHC land back. In November, WMMHC declined the offer.

Anderson said accepting the offer would be a “multi-million dollar” loss for WMMHC.

The next step for the county is to meet with WMMHC, Lambert said. That meeting will be to discuss the breach in contract and “remedies” for the county.

Also up for discussion is the complicated ownership of the property, Lambert said.

WMMHC owns the property and facility, which was donated by Bozeman Health.

Gallatin County pledged $1 million to cover construction costs. The county still owes nearly half-a-million.

Tied into the ownership of the property is a clause that WMMHC must use the facilities to provide mental health care. If not, the property reverts back to Bozeman Health, Lambert said.

“We’ll learn at the meeting whether we can hope for a pretty early and successful set of agreements to wrap this all up, or whether it’s going to take a lot more time,” Lambert said.

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Juliana Sukut can be reached at 582-2630 or jsukut@dailychronicle.com

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