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Published on January 15, 2016

Billings Clinic launches first Montana-based Project ECHO hub

Program to support mental health and substance abuse clinicians within the Department of Corrections

Billings, MT— In an effort to overcome the longstanding, state-wide shortage of mental health and substance abuse clinicians, Billings Clinic is launching the first Montana-based Project ECHO hub. 

The ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) model™ is a medical education and care management collaborative that empowers clinicians in remote settings to deliver better care to more people locally.  By putting local clinicians together with specialist teams at larger medical centers in weekly virtual clinics or teleECHO™ clinics, Project ECHO shares knowledge, expands treatment capacity and offers peer support to otherwise regionally isolated clinicians.

Project ECHO Billings Clinic is utilizing this research-validated method to establish an addictions and behavioral health collaborative and peer support for addictions and behavioral health clinicians working within the Department of Corrections to care for offenders who are incarcerated or transitioning back into the community.

As the most comprehensive psychiatric and behavioral health medical practice in Montana, Billings Clinic is leading this initiative, bringing together a psychiatrist, pharmacist, nurse, and social worker.  Rimrock Foundation and the Department of Corrections will also supply professional personnel to complete this multidisciplinary team hub. 

“Thanks to the support from the Montana Mental Health Trust, our first Project ECHO clinic will focus on delivering support and improving care within mental and addictions services,” said Dr. Eric Arzubi, chair of Billings Clinic’s Department of Psychiatric Services. “We anticipate that, over time, other medical specialties will benefit from Project ECHO Billings Clinic to enhance the quality of healthcare services around the region.”

Project ECHO Billings Clinic will offer weekly educational support and 60 minutes of collaborative case review provided by mental health clinicians from the Montana State Prison and Passages. The multidisciplinary team will collectively share strategies, best-practices, and appropriate testing or pharmacy recommendations to best serve the patient. 

“Having access to such a high caliber of psychiatric expertise will mean better mental health care for offenders, something we know translates into safer communities,” said Department of Corrections Deputy Director Loraine Wodnik.  “We’re also grateful for the support this innovative approach will provide to the dedicated team of mental health professionals within the department.  Project ECHO is a definite win-win for Montana.”

Project ECHO operates 39 hubs for nearly 30 diseases and conditions in 22 states and five countries outside the U.S., including sites within the Department of Defense healthcare systems.

The Project ECHO Billings Clinic Kickoff will take place on January 20, 2015, followed by a maximum of 40 weekly case presentations and consultations. The project will be evaluated after six weeks by Project ECHO process experts.  A formal program evaluation with research outcomes will begin in November, culminating with a final report at the end of the year.