Senate panel advances funding for western Montana mental health project

Measure will help connect rural hospitals to mental health experts

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester and his colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee have passed legislation that will help start a new regional hospital network to help rural hospitals treat mental illness.

The Senate Labor and Health and Human Services Appropriations Act includes funding to establish a new Outpatient Mental Health Network in western Montana. 

The network will use telemedicine technology to connect St. Patrick Hospital doctors who specialize in mental health with emergency rooms at small hospitals around Montana. The Missoula-based doctors will assist rural hospitals with treating patients who suffer from mental health related problems.

The new program will allow rural hospitals to treat patients without having to move them across the state for treatment.

“This is a smart investment in communities throughout western Montana because we are utilizing state-of-the-art technology to improve patient care while keeping folks in their own communities,” Tester said.  “This new network will help rural communities offer the kind of mental health services that before were only available in larger cities.”

“The Outpatient Mental Health Network will serve so many people in western Montana because it takes the best technology out there to connect rural emergency rooms with top-flight specialists at St. Pat’s,” Baucus said. “Most communities can’t afford full-time mental health professionals but with this appropriation, rural hospitals will have access to a service that will be as good as a fulltime mental health expert.”

Under the current legislation, Saint Patrick Hospital would receive $150,000 to begin the new Network.

For a full list of funding for Montana under the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Act, click HERE.

What is an appropriations bill?
  • A federal appropriations bill funds the federal government.  12 appropriations bills will fund the federal government for the next Fiscal Year.
  • Less than one half of one percent of these appropriations bills consist of congressionally directed funding (also called “earmarks”).  This funding is not additional spending for the federal government, nor does it increase federal deficit.  Rather, it is a set of directions telling the government where it must use existing funds.
  • In the past, appropriations funding had been abused by anonymous requests with little transparency.
  • Since 2007, the process was overhauled to guarantee transparency and fair debate in Congress.
  • All of Tester’s and Baucus’ appropriations requests are online HERE and HERE.