210825 PHOTO Medical Center JOSHUA

The Boulder Medical Center on Main Street, pictured on Aug. 23. (Joshua Murdock/The Monitor)

Mental health counseling is available beginning today at the Boulder Medical Clinic on Main Street.

Julie Prigmore, the director of substance recovery at the Center for Mental Health, told the Jefferson County Mental Health Local Advisory Council at an Aug. 19 meeting that the counseling center would begin offering services today, Aug. 25, and that Jessica Gruber, a licensed clinical and professional counselor from the CMH in Helena, will staff the office every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Prigmore is a licensed counselor who also sits on the local advisory council. 

Jefferson County Prevention Specialist and DUI Task Force Coordinator Barb Reiter said that Prigmore had signed a contract with St. James hospital in Butte—which rents and staffs the Boulder clinic—in order to sublet a space in the clinic. Reiter said that people interested in booking a counseling appointment can call the Helena Center for Mental Health at (406) 443-7151.

The counseling office opening comes after several delays. The Monitor previously reported that the CMH would establish a counseling office in St. Catherine’s Catholic Church parish hall in Boulder, opening on June 25. The CMH planned to rent the space using federal funds from a $40,000 County and Tribal Government Matching Grant that the advisory council received in May 2020. Prigmore previously told The Monitor that the council was able to apply for the grant due to crisis circumstances presented by the coronavirus pandemic, and the terms of the grant required that the funds be spent or allocated by June 30, 2021. 

Prigmore wrote to The Monitor on June 28 this year that the CMH was facing delays in signing a contract with St. Catherine’s Catholic Church due to "some contract language [that] came up" and "some changes with the priest." The CMH was also exploring other options for housing the office, including in the Boulder clinic. She wrote to The Monitor on Aug. 2 that she had received a contract from St. James on July 30 and the CMH was reviewing it. 

Because the deadline to use the federal grant funds had passed, Prigmore told the council at a July 15 meeting, the council no longer had the funding—but the CMH was committed to providing the service in Boulder regardless, she said, and would cover the cost of renting the space in the Boulder clinic. Jefferson County Commissioner Bob Mullen, who also sits on the council, said at the Aug. 19 meeting that $12,000 that the county gives the CMH each year could go toward the cost of renting the space.

Indeed, the pandemic has presented crisis circumstances for mental health across the nation. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an increase in mental health disorders and substance use during the pandemic. Earlier in the pandemic in June 2020, the CDC reported that 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with their mental health or substance use, of which 11% had considered suicide, 31% had symptoms of anxiety or depression, and 13% started or increased substance use. 

The counseling office comes to Boulder at a time when the county has seen a sharp increase in coronavirus cases. Cases have risen from one or two new cases per week at the beginning of July to 25 new cases reported over a one-week period from Aug. 9 to Aug. 16, according to reports issued by Boulder Medical Clinic Coordinator Molly Carey. Jefferson County Public Health Supervisor Pam Hanna previously told The Monitor that the county is likely to see another surge, given that this is the same time last year the county saw an increase in cases—but there were fewer cases at this same time last year. Last week’s 23 active cases were the greatest number of coronavirus cases the county has seen since late winter. 

Even without the coronavirus, access to mental care is a major issue in Montana, especially in rural areas. CMH CEO Sydney Blair previously told The Monitor that 90% of Montanans who need mental health care do not receive it. 

Gruber, the counselor working in Boulder, previously told The Monitor that she is "excited" to work in Boulder. She said she moved to Clancy from Idaho in 2014 in order to work at the CMH in Helena. She works with patients of all ages, from "3 years old, to end-of-life," she said. She also has experience working in small communities, she said, and previously worked in Townsend from 2014–16. She said she "thoroughly enjoys" working in rural communities.

"As soon as I saw the opportunity to work in Boulder, I said, 'Oh yeah, I’ll definitely work there,'" she said. 

Kathy Rux, a Jefferson County Mental Health Local Advisory Council member, told The Monitor that she thinks the clinic is a good place to have the counseling office. In the past, she said, people were nervous to seek counseling due to the "stigma" and a fear that others would see them entering the office. She said that if the counseling office is hosted in the clinic, people would not be able to tell why someone is entering the clinic.

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