For over two hours on Wednesday, Missoula County Commissioners listened to their department heads detail the impact of state and federal budget cuts to the services they offer.

Director of the Missoula City County Health Department, Ellen Leahy, began by saying that cuts in state funding mean a loss of preventive care services, which is where many problems start.

“If we don’t prevent the things that are indeed preventable, or at least mitigate early in life, we often don’t have another opportunity to help people, to help our society and to cut costs, so that’s the main reason we are going first,” said Leahy. “We are expecting a 77 percent decrease in eligible children. In 2017, we served 133 babies and children, and of course, their families for about 4,000 visits. With a 77 percent reduction, we think we can serve 176.”

Also testifying for the commissioners was Chantelle Gaynor with Relationship Violence Services, who shared a chilling story about what happens when there is a breakdown in services. A grandmother in Kalispell wanted to pick up her grandchild for a visit, and after bringing the child to her home, the mother’s estranged husband was there.

“Grandma assured here that everything was going to go fine, and when she took baby over, he was there laying in wait and killed her and her older teenage daughter,” Gaynor said. “If Kalispell had had supervised visitation, if Kalispell had appropriate services for that family, they could have had a safe exchange. She could have dropped off the baby and the grandma could have seen baby, but instead, his defense cost over a million dollars because it was a death penalty case.”

Also testifying was Gary Evans, Assistant Commander of the Missoula County Detention Center, who said there are tragic stories every day at the jail.

“Just today alone, we have had tragedies where there are people trying to take their own lives, “: said Evans. “We send them to Warm Springs, and when they’re back 20 minutes later they’re trying to take their lives again. All of those people have families. I applaud the fact that you’re looking at this and taking it so seriously.”

Also speaking to the commissioners were representatives from the County Attorney’s Office, Western Montana Mental Health, the Child Development Center, Missoula Aging Services, and a licensed clinical social worker.

Commissioner Dave Strohmaier also invited the public to ask questions of the panel. The commissioners took all the comments under advisement.

Missoula Community Access Television filmed the session, and it will be available on MCAT in the near future.

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