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Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana (BCBSMT) has donated $250,000 as the lead gift in a new fundraising campaign being launched by the Billings Clinic Foundation to help sustain Montana’s first-ever psychiatry residency.

“Montana is in the middle of a mental health crisis,” said John Doran, divisional vice president of external affairs at BCBSMT. “Part of the issue is the lack of robust behavioral health services in our state. We applaud Billings Clinic’s leadership to establish a psychiatry residency program — the first of its kind in Montana — and we share in Billings Clinic’s commitment to do all we can to prevent suicide in communities across this great state.”
BCBSMT’s gift kicks off a $3.3 million fundraising campaign by the Billings Clinic Foundation for the Psychiatry Endowment Fund, which will provide continued funding for the psychiatry residency program at Billings Clinic after its start-up period.
The endowment fund will help Billings Clinic maintain a sustainable psychiatry residency program with an emphasis on recruiting residents that possess a strong desire to practice in Montana and who have a passion for leadership and innovation.
“Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana continues to be a leader in health care in Montana and their generous commitment will help ensure the lasting improvement of mental health care access for all Montanans,” said Jim Duncan, president of the Billings Clinic Foundation. “Mental health affects all of us, and we rely on significant philanthropic support and partnerships like this to achieve the ambitious goal of training future psychiatrists to ensure affordable access to high-quality, innovative health care, delivered close to home.”
For decades, three states – Montana, Wyoming and Alaska – have consistently reported suicide rates that are, or are among, the highest in the country. These are also the only states without residency programs to train psychiatrists. Rural areas in Montana and throughout the region face a mental health crisis due to high suicide rates, isolation and a lack of mental health care resources and providers.
Billings Clinic announced in September of 2018 the creation of Montana’s first-ever psychiatry residency program. Called the Montana Track at Billings Clinic, this program will be a regional track of the University of Washington Psychiatry Residency Training Program.
BCBSMT’s donation is part of its own focus on preventing suicide by making resources available to all communities. Earlier this fall, BCBSMT launched The Big Blue Sky Initiative, an educational campaign to fight opioid abuse, rising suicide rates and meth and heroin epidemics.
Montana’s Psychiatry Residency program will train residents with a strong desire to serve in rural areas. After completing medical school, residents will spend their first two years in Seattle, Washington, and complete their 3rd and 4th years in Montana.
Montana native and Billings Clinic psychiatrist, Julie Kelso, MD, will serve as program director.
Residents will be integrated into Billings Clinic Psychiatric Services, which includes Montana’s largest inpatient psychiatric practice, a 44-bed inpatient psychiatric unit serving children and adults, and the state’s most comprehensive behavioral health team made up of 12 psychiatrists, eight nurse practitioners and one physician assistant.
The residency has received more than 400 applicants to date for its first class is now interviewing potential residents. The program will begin matching psychiatrists in early 2019 and will bring in its first class to Seattle that summer and to Billings in 2021.