Lawmakers Say State Must Measure Mental Health Progress

Counties that receive certain mental health grants this year must collect and report data

By Dillon Tabish

HELENA — A state agency must determine how to track the effectiveness of millions of dollars being injected into Montana’s mental health care system, lawmakers asserted Monday.

The Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee heard positive feedback on the $20 million funding package that passed this year. But health care providers said they’re not sure what data to collect to demonstrate whether new and expanded programs are successful.

Rep. Ron Ehli, the committee’s chairman, said the Department of Public Health and Human Services has to prove some of the programs are keeping people out of the state hospital in Warm Springs.

“It’s up to the department to come up with a way to quantify that,” Ehli said. “That is their responsibility.”

Glenda Oldenburg, administrator of the department’s addictive and mental disorders division, said her agency is considering tracking 911 calls related to mental health, employment data, symptoms and housing situations to measure the impact of the state funding.

Counties that receive certain mental health grants this year must collect and report data on jail diversion, crisis intervention and treatment “in the form and manner prescribed by the department to support program evaluation and measure progress on performance goals.”

“We don’t even have agreement on what performance outcomes are, do we?” Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, asked during the committee meeting. “It would be really helpful to know what they are for the various programs. Unless it’s measured against something, it doesn’t mean much to me.”

Oldenburg responded, “we can do that,” but declined to elaborate after the meeting.

Department of Public Health and Human Services spokesman Jon Ebelt did not provide information on existing or planned rules regarding the performance goals or mental health progress by 4 p.m. Monday.

Representatives of health care facilities who attended the meeting said the variance of patients’ situations makes it difficult to write a blanket definition of what mental health progress looks like.

“We really do have to define what we want to measure and, that, I don’t know if we’ve really come together as community stakeholders to define,” Jodi Daly, executive director of Western Montana Mental Health, said.

The department proposed a rule last month that would use state contracts with mental health care providers like Daly’s to define and document some outcomes at individual clinics.

Ehli said the rule includes too few definitions and no goals to fully implement the mental health programs.

Comment on the rule will be accepted Sept. 16-24.