A representative for the Western Montana Mental Health Center said this week that the Missoula-based organization has decided not to renew Levi Anderson’s contract after his five years as CEO, reports the Montana Free Press. Anderson’s last day with the organization was Friday, May 19th.
Western has retained Cascadia Management Group, also based in Missoula, to help with the management transition over the next two to three months. That group’s president, Colleen Rudio, is overseeing Western as interim executive manager.
She framed Anderson’s departure as a mutual decision between him and Western based on the nonprofit’s desire to “look for a different style of leadership” and prioritize collaboration with other healthcare professionals.
“Right now, the organization needs to focus on its relationships and the organizations in each of its communities,” Rudio said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “Making sure where we need to be, when we need to be there, is really what I think the board is focusing on in its next leadership.”
Anderson was unavailable for comment prior to publication.
Western, long the backbone of behavioral health services in western Montana communities, has struggled financially for years. The state legislature in 2017 lowered Medicaid reimbursement rates, specifically for case managers, destabilizing many reliant Medicaid providers a year before Anderson took the helm at Western. The COVID pandemic has increased staffing strains and overhead costs.
While the organization has continued to provide numerous services, including crisis stabilization and comprehensive school and community treatment (CSCT) in public schools, Western has also closed programs and lost contracts in recent years. In an April interview with KFF Health News, Anderson said Western’s broad scope of services made the closure of some programs more visible.
“We became the face of system failure because we are the only organization providing these services,” Anderson said at the time.
Lawmakers from both political parties doubled down on raising Medicaid reimbursement rates for providers during the 2023 legislature, bringing in new investment of up to $330 million in state and federal funds, according to Rep. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork, chair of the health budget subcommittee.
But these provider fees are yet to be defined. The budget bill containing the proposed increases, House Bill 2, has not gone to the governor’s desk and may change form when it does. Gov. Greg Gianforte, who has the power to veto line items on draft budgets, was asked in May by Senate Majority Leader Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, to carve out some of the proposed increases in provider rates that Republicans and Democrats have successfully adopted it. in the last days of the Legislature.
If that happens, providers will still see a historic increase in Medicaid reimbursements. But industry advocates say anything less than what lawmakers have agreed on risks keeping community services operating at a loss.
“As with all businesses, costs have risen for Medicaid providers at an unusually high rate of inflation,” Mary Windecker, executive director of the Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana, said in an email Thursday. “Since 2019, numerous services for children and adults have closed because of low fares and will need to be reopened at a higher cost. The additional money allocated by Senator Fitzpatrick’s colleagues will be essential to reopen these closed programs and reverse the impact on communities of the 2017 budget cuts and the worldwide pandemic.”
Western is still making changes to services, as well as its leadership, with a financial outlook in mind. The organization decided this month to transform a residential drug recovery treatment program, Recovery Center Missoula, into a lower-level residential program, freeing up the five existing residents and laying off eight employees in the process. RCM was the only treatment program in Missoula licensed as a 3.5 facility based on American Society of Addiction Medicine criteria.
Rudio, Western’s interim executive, said the decision was made in part for financial reasons. But she said the adjusted licensing will allow the 16-bed facility to fill its census and shorten its existing waiting list. While the organization hasn’t announced any additional closures or program changes, Rudio hasn’t ruled out the possibility.
“I’m not going to say that there won’t be changes to the program as we go forward, but what I will say is that there aren’t programs that we’re looking at right now in terms of eliminations or reductions,” Rudio said.