The Center for Mental Health has delayed opening its counseling office in Boulder, but its plan to open a local office is still in the works, according to Jefferson County Mental Health Local Advisory Council member Kathy Rux. 

CMH Director of Substance Recovery Julie Prigmore, a licensed counselor who also sits on the local advisory council, previously told The Monitor that the office would open for counseling services at the St. Catherine’s Church parish hall on June 25. However, since then, Rux said, finalizing a lease with the church—particularly working with the Helena Diocese and a new local priest to finalize a contract—has been a slow and complex process.

“We are going to have an office in Boulder—that is a given,” Rux said, adding that the primary hurdle is finding a long-term home for the office.

She said that when the CMH previously worked with the diocese, it took about six months to negotiate a plan, so this time the CMH is exploring other options in addition to the church hall. 

A representative from the diocese was not immediately available for comment.

The CMH is considering renting a space at the Boulder Medical Clinic, according to Rux. She said that if the counseling office opens in the clinic, it would likely be operational every Wednesday when the clinic is closed, allowing adequate space and privacy. 

St. James Hospital in Butte rents and provides medical personnel in the Boulder clinic, so the CMH has to coordinate with St. James to rent a room there, Rux said. The St. James clinic manager has not been reachable for the last week, Rux said, so she currently does not know which space the CMH will choose.  

“We’ll go with whichever one comes through fastest,” she said. 

Rux said that stigma surrounding mental health has previously been an obstacle for providing Boulder residents with mental health and counseling services.

Jefferson County Prevention Specialist and DUI Task Force Coordinator Barb Reiter said that the CMH previously had a counseling office on Boulder’s Main Street. But many area residents chose to receive care in Helena rather than risk being seen entering the office on Main Street, and eventually the office closed because it wasn’t seeing enough patients, Rux said. 

However, Rux said, most Boulder residents don’t think twice about seeing others enter the clinic, and there are many reasons other than counseling for people to enter the Catholic church. Therefore, the clinic and the Catholic church are inconspicuous enough that people might feel more comfortable seeking mental health care there, she said. 

Regardless of location, the office space will be rented using a $40,000 federal grant that the CMH received in May 2020 to improve access to mental health in Boulder and Whitehall, Prigmore told The Monitor in a previous interview. The terms of the grant require the money to be either spent or allocated by June 30, Reiter previously told the Monitor. She said on Tuesday that the current uncertainty over renting an office wouldn’t jeopardize the funds because the money is already allocated for rent.

County Commissioner Bob Mullen told The Monitor previously that the local advisory council oversees the grant and releases money to the CMH to fund resources for Jefferson County. Money from the grant has been used for personal protective equipment for physicians, rent for the CMH counseling office in Whitehall, telehealth initiatives and crisis services, Mullen and Prigmore said.  

“We really need mental health services here,” Rux said.

Indeed, Jefferson County’s 2020 Community Health Improvement Plan listed mental health as its first priority. Ranking in the top-five states with the highest suicide rates for the past thirty years, Reiter previously told The Monitor, mental health access is an issue across the state of Montana.

According to a report published by Montana Suicide Prevention Coordinator Karl Rosston, Jefferson County’s suicide rate between 2009 and 2018 was 29.9 per 100,000—higher than the national average of 23.9 per 100,000.

The coronavirus pandemic has also led to an increase in mental health issues and substance use nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of late June 2020, 40 percent of U.S. adults reported struggling with their mental health or substance use, of which 11 percent had seriously considered suicide, 31 percent had symptoms of anxiety or depression, and 13 percent started or increased substance use. 

Rux said she is unsure exactly when the CMH office in Boulder will open, but she is hopeful it will happen soon.

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