One year after the Greater Valley Health Center split from the Flathead City-County Health Department to become an independent non-profit, the organization has expanded its operations, taking on additional projects and acquiring Sykes Pharmacy to address the health care gap in the Flathead Valley.

Services have now expanded to Flathead Valley schools with integrated clinical and behavioral health at the Linderman Education Center in Kalispell, East Evergreen Elementary, Kalispell Middle School and Elrod Elementary School in Kalispell.

“We’re trying to bridge the gap to help some of the more challenging behaviors and also handle some of the kids with anxiety and depression,” said Greater Valley Behavioral Association director Shaunda Wenger.

Last year, the organization provided treatment to 394 students at school clinics and Wenger says it is very useful for students to receive medical care inside the school because it reduces the stress faced by parents and gives them more access. This service also takes the pressure off the school administration.

“We pay separately so it’s a way for schools to get jobs without using their own resources,” Wenger said.

As a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), Greater Valley is required to provide care to all patients, regardless of ability to pay, providing a low-cost service and serving more than 7,000 patients a year.

In 2021, 20% of patients in the Greater Valley were uninsured, 36% of patients were on Medicaid, 18% were on Medicare and 25% had private insurance.

Despite the Greater Valley’s growth in behavioral health and mental health services, providers cannot keep up with the high demand for services and waiting lists exist.

“We’ve been seeing referrals from former Sunburst patients and the same thing has happened at Western (Montana Mental Health Center) … There’s probably a bigger need than any of us are 100% ready to meet right now,” Greater Valley. CEO Mary Sterhan said.

Both Sunburst Mental Health Services and Western Montana Mental Health Center have closed their operations and are no longer accepting new clients.

The Greater Valley is in the process of expanding its addiction treatment and mental health services, offering medication-assisted treatment such as sublocade and subdoxone to help with drug addiction.

“This is to provide treatment for people who are trying to overcome their substance abuse problem and prepare them for counseling and treatment,” Wenger said. “Most of the time, drug use is very difficult.

Sterhan says the organization’s primary care is often the first priority for a patient who may need additional health care, allowing for an integrated health care system where providers connect them to the right resources within the same organization.

Greater Valley Partners plans to continue expanding services to meet the needs of patients in the Flathead Valley, but Sterhan says staffing has been holding back the growth he’d like to see.

To encourage potential employees, Sterhan is offering half-time employee benefits while also encouraging employees to go to school and continue to grow their careers.

“We’re trying to be as creative as possible,” Sterhan said.

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