Montana’s hydra-headed health and human services beat

Montana Free Press will be taking a vacation out of the office December 26-30. Instead of new stories, we’ll be publishing MTFP editors’ and reporters’ reviews of their most impactful, interesting, challenging, and simply favorite stories from the past year. Today is the turn of Mara Silvers.


I spent much of 2022 working on threads similar to last year: abortion policy, mental health care, addiction treatment, general public health, LGBTQ+ social issues, foster care reforms, but under the new title of health reporter. and human services. If I may, now seems like the time to publicly brag about how much I love this beat. I am learning about the health care systems and social issues that affect countless Montanans, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the sources who give me their time, share their experiences, and provide me with their insights.

Demonstrators demonstrate for abortion rights in front of the Missoula County Courthouse on June 26, 2022. Credit: Mara Silvers/MTFP

On the abortion and reproductive health care front, a few things certainly happened. The US Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health vacated the landmark Roe v. Wade, ending 50 years of federal protections for pre-carrying abortions in the United States. The map of states where abortion was still a legal medical procedure began to flicker, but Montana was still lit. we cover the proteststhe abortion provider planningstate strategies anti-abortion movementand provided a detailed profile of how an independent clinic was doing months later.

We also continue to track the Ongoing lawsuit between Planned Parenthood of Montana and the state, which originated in 2021 with the challenge of the constitutionality of three restrictions on abortion promulgated during the last Legislature. And we we did our best to explain the origin, architecture, and ramifications of another bill that put Legislative Referendum 131 on the voters’ ballot this November. Montana voters ended rejecting the ‘Born-Alive’ Child Protection Actthat bupkis had to do with abortion policy but led serious consequences for parents who gave birth to newborns with fatal medical conditions, by a 5% margin.

Protesters on the street outside All Families Healthcare in August 2022. Credit: Mara Silvers/MTFP

In other parts of my journey, the spotlight continued to shine brightly at Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs, which lost federal accreditation in April due to non-compliance with health and safety regulations. That crisis presented a tremendous challenge for the Gianforte administration in a year marked by leadership changes in the state health department and a growing reliance on a now nearly $7 million contract with private consultants to right the state’s behavioral health ship. We hope to be aware of these issues over the next year.

Dr. Brad Holbrook, a maternal-fetal medicine physician in Missoula, speaks against LR-131 at the State Capitol in Helena on October 27, 2022. Credit: Mara Silvers/MTFP

This year, Montana continued to see the ripple effect of pandemic-era debates over public safety and private medical choice. Several lawsuits were filed for House Bill 702, the Republican-sponsored measure that made it illegal for Montana and nearly all other employers to discriminate based on vaccination status in the workplace and in public places. The legal challenge that caused the biggest stir was filed by a variety of healthcare providers and immunocompromised patients ā€” Argued in federal district court that vaccination requirements are essential in healthcare settings to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and protect the rights of disabled patients who wish to be treated by vaccinated personnel. Federal Judge Donald W. Molloy decided this month that their arguments stood under the Constitution and federal law, and struck down HB 702 in health care settings.

Somehow, there is still so much more. finished discussions religious exemptions to vaccinations in child care settings, a genuine legal and bureaucratic dump fire about whether transgender Montanans can update their birth certificates to accurately reflect their gender identity, a infinitely amazing fight about the rainbow color scheme in the new Montana State Library logo, and much, much more.

On September 10, 2022, in Helena, Montana Book Co. owners Chelsia Rice (right) and Charlie Crawford (left) pose for a portrait with Julie Yard on the street in front of the Montana Book Co. Yard is one of the members from the drag trio Mister Sisters who host story hours for children at the LGBTQ-owned bookstore dressed as larger-than-life characters. Credit: Janie Osborne / The Guardian

I would be remiss not to mention two stories that I found particularly compelling this year: a profile of Helena’s LGBTQ-owned Montana Book Company which MTFP co-published with The Guardian, and a deep dive into how the state wants to change Medicaid Rules for Inpatient Treatment of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorders. Perhaps those pieces better explain the breadth and depth of this rhythm. I loved delving into its full potential this year.

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