Innovation Spotlight: The Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana

We created our Behavioral Health Leadership Initiative to strengthen Montana’s behavioral health system by uniting providers, guiding state policy, implementing new initiatives, and promoting best practices.

This month, we are highlighting the organization that grew out of the Behavioral Health Leadership Initiative: The Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana, or “BHAM.” 

Behavioral health providers face many economic, regulatory, and workforce challenges in a rapidly evolving health care environment. They are also responsible for treating some of Montana’s most vulnerable and complex patients. Compounding these challenges, behavioral health providers have historically lacked a unifying platform to facilitate collaboration.

With these challenges in mind, in 2016, we convened stakeholders from four behavioral health sectors (mental illness, substance use, child treatment, adult treatment). Over two years, we facilitated a planning process to establish a new organization where behavioral health providers could meet, learn from each other, and collaborate. In 2017, we gave BHAM a $150,000 grant to developing a strategic plan, cultivate and grow its membership and revenues, and ensure its long-term sustainability. 

“Pulling all sectors of the behavioral health provider community together allows us to provide expert solutions to the serious behavioral health problems facing Montana: high suicide rates and an epidemic of mental illness and substance use disorders.”

– Mary Windecker, BHAM Executive Director

Even as such a new organization, BHAM has already made critically important contributions to strengthening behavioral health in the state by:

  • Bringing behavioral health providers together to identify and address common issues. For example, BHAM is currently working on an initiative to develop a standard set of patient experience and service quality measures. With these measures in place, providers can better understand if their treatment is effective.
  • Advancing the use of peer support by behavioral health providers. BHAM contracted with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) to support the early implementation of peer support by behavioral health providers by providing clinical supervision, training, and measuring outcomes.
  • Developing a single voice to speak for behavioral health providers. The ability to speak with a unified voice has allowed for a more constructive partnership and effective communication with DPHHS.
  • Offering behavioral health training opportunities. More information on upcoming quality improvement and new skills training and other BHAM events can be found here.
  • Providing feedback on the adaptation of new rules. As DPHHS worked to implement the federal and state changes to telehealth and telephone rules during the beginning of the pandemic, BHAM provided unified feedback. As the pandemic progresses, BHAM will continue to provide feedback to Medicaid. This feedback will help the state determine how the rules should evolve to keep providers functioning and give patients the care they need.

As a new organization, BHAM has been successful in a task that had never been done before – pulling all the separate behavioral health providers together to work as a collaborative. By creating a unified purpose and voice, behavioral health disciplines across the state can collaborate, advocate for themselves effectively, and provide the best care possible for their patients. More information about BHAM can be found at montanabehavioralhealth.org.

BHAM members attend an annual meeting. (L-R: Dan Swallow, Youth Homes; Barb Cowan, Partnership for Children; Kim Gardner, Intermountain; Kim Chouinard, Yellowstone Boys & Girls Ranch)