HAVRE DAILY NEWS: NAMI Montana honorees include Tester, Windy Boy

by Havre Daily News staff

The National Alliance on Mental Illness Montana has released its list of Montana Heroes for their work on dealing with mental illness, with two local lawmakers on the list.

At the top of the list was U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who received an award for veterans mental health.

“Sen. Jon Tester has been an amazing partner for NAMI Montana for years,” a release from NAMI Montana said. “In 2019, Senator Tester and his staff took their efforts to the next level by partnering with NAMI Montana and others to develop the bipartisan Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. The bill has a lot of momentum moving into 2020.”

The release said the bill could be the most influential veterans mental health initiative in a decade.

“We are especially grateful that it is named in memory of our dear friend Cmdr. John Scott Hannon, a retired Navy SEAL commander who volunteered with NAMI Montana,” the release said.

Also honored was state Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, for his work implementing the Community Health Aide Program, or CHAP, to increase medical services in Indian Country.

The program sets standards for people to be certified, without being licensed, to provide some dental, behavioral health and community health services in a location operated by the U.S. Indian Health Services or a tribal health program.

Windy Boy had to work to modify his original proposal, addressing concerns that nonqualified people could end up providing services. After multiple amendments were made addressing those concerns, the bill passed and was signed into law by Gov. Steve Bullock.

“Community Health Aides can service critical roles in providing basic medical and behavioral health care services,” the NAMI Montana release said. “Community Health Aides can also conduct basic preventive dental care, health screenings, in-home care, and other services. While the need for the program is clear, there were a number of legislative hurdles in navigating professional boards, supervision concerns and other processes.

“Rep. Windy Boy’s successful efforts in passing the bill were really impressive,” the release added.

NAMI Montana presented Hero awards to several other lawmakers, as well.

Reps. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, and Mary Caferro, D-Helena, were honored for their efforts to extend Medicaid expansion in Montana.

“This was an incredibly difficult and important bill with the medical care of thousands of Montanans at stake,” the release said. “The bill would not have passed without Rep. Buttrey and Rep. Caferro’s leadership on both sides of the aisle. We are also giving an Exemplary Service Award to Montana Hospital Association’s Bob Olsen. Bob delivered critical testimony that helped the bill get through some of the most difficult sections of the legislative process.”

The release said Olsen’s efforts were also essential to Medicaid expansion’s passage.

The association also gave a Hero Award to Sen. Jen Gross, D-Billings, for her work on peer support services.

“The quest to develop peer support services as an element of Montana’s mental illness treatment system has been going on for over a decade,” The NAMI Montana release said. “However, it would not be until Montana Medicaid covered peer support services. Sen. Jen Gross carried the bill that made this critical step possible. It was difficult effort that required navigation between a number of stakeholders to come to workable solution. Sen. Gross resolutely stood up against these challenges and ensured the bill became law.”

The association also presented awards to Rep. Joel Krautter, R-Sidney, and Sen. Edie McClafferty, D-Butte, for their work in crisis intervention training and efforts in creating mobile crisis intervention units.

“These critical crisis services can be the difference between recovery and tragedy,” the release said. “The legislation allows both rural and urban communities the flexibility to develop services that fit their community’s unique resources. The bill allowed the community’s the flexibility to innovate in their work to provide this essential service.”

Rep. Jessica Karjala,” D-Billings, Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, were presented Hero Awards for their suicide prevention efforts.

The release said Karjala carried last legislative session’s bipartisan suicide prevention legislation while Dunwell served with her on the House Health and Human Services Committee.

“Rep. Dunwell has been a staunch and passionate supporter for suicide prevention efforts for years,” the release said. “Their combined efforts have been critical to raise the bar for Montana’s suicide prevention efforts.”

NAMI Montana also presented Elizabeth Bannister, previously with Montana State University’s Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery, an exemplary service wward “for her selfless efforts to ensure continuity in the Youth Aware of Mental Health program during the program’s leadership transition in 2018,” the release said. ‘Elizabeth telecommuted for three months to ensure that the program was able to continue to be offered to Montana schools, through the change in leadership. This international mental health awareness and suicide prevention program is being offered is 30 Montana schools in 2019-2020 and will serve over 3,000 students. This would not have been possible without Elizabeth’s efforts in 2018 to ensure that the program’s continuity.

“NAMI Montana is grateful for the service of this year’s award winners and for everyone who works so hard to improve Montana’s mental illness treatment system” the release concluded. “We are all in this together.”