Rural Health Care Program at UM Wins National Award

April 07, 2015

MISSOULA ‒ A program at the University of Montana that ensures patients in rural areas have access to mental health care is receiving national recognition.

The National Rural Health Association will present a 2015 Rural Health Award to the Rural Behavior Health Primary Care Collaborative, a program of the Western Montana Area Health Education Center at UM, at its annual conference later this month.

“We’re especially proud of this year’s winners,” said Alan Morgan, NRHA CEO. “They have each already made tremendous strides to advance rural health care, and we’re confident they will continue to help improve the lives of rural Americans.”

The Primary Care Collaborative is a partnership between the Western Montana AHEC and critical access hospitals in five isolated Montana communities. The innovative program places pre-licensed, postdoctorate psychologists and pre-licensed social workers in Libby, Glasgow, Deer Lodge, Plains and Kalispell to provide mental health care services. University faculty members provide supervision until they become licensed.

By locating the specialists at rural health clinics and community health centers, the program reduces the stigma associated with mental health treatment and allows doctors to make referrals to a specialist in the same building. Locating more of a patient’s health care providers in the same facility increases the chance of follow-through and allows specialists to intercept patients in need of behavioral interventions to improve their overall health. Additionally, pairing a psychologist and social worker at the sites prevents professional isolation.

“The idea is to always aim for the highest quality patient care, regardless of geographic location, in an effort to provide equitable care,” said project director Sara Laney. “Improving access to behavioral health care in rural Montana is the goal of this project. We’ve had the opportunity to integrate a sustainable model of behavioral health care in parts of this state where it previously didn’t exist.”

One of five regional Area Health Education Centers in Montana, the Western Montana AHEC is a grant-funded, not-for-profit organization committed to making quality health care and health science education more accessible to rural Montanans. It is located in UM’s College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences.

For more information call program coordinator Martha Robertson at 406-243-4746 or email

Contact: Martha Robertson, program coordinator, Western Montana AHEC, 406-243-4746,