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Healthcare providers, community leaders begin conversation with lawmakers

By Katherine Mozzone, KTVM Reporter, kmozzone@ktvm.com
Published On: Nov 29 2012 06:25:44 PM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Alicia Smith lives with mental illness.  

"I ended up having to retire from 34 years of self-employment, created 6 business, sold five of them but my illness finally caught up to me," says Smith.

Now, Smith says it's important she speak up for those with mental illness that can't speak up for themselves.  

"I know a lot of people are still struggling and too many people are hurt, too many people are left behind and too many people are committing suicide," explains Smith.

That's why she decided to weigh in at Alliance for a Healthy Montana's Gallatin County Legislative Health Forum, a conversation amongst health service professionals, community leaders and lawmakers on how to solve the county's toughest health issues as legislators gear up for their next session.

"It's time to really start talking and listening to one another and trying to find solutions to some of these problems," says Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley.

Problems like, the number of folks who go without health insurance in Gallatin County, low childhood immunization rates and the stigma surrounding mental illness.  Yet health officials say we're lucky to live in a community with lots of resources.

"It's trying to figure out how to provide the best services to the most people for a cost that we can afford as a society," says Kelley.

We talked to one lawmaker who says it's people like Gallatin County's health policy advocates, providers, community leaders and folks like Smith in attendance that do the groundwork and know what Montanan's need in the way of healthcare.  That's why she says it's important that legislators listen and be a part of the discussion.

"The role of the legislature is to provide for public health," says State Representative J.P. Pomnichowski.

Pomnichowski says it's her job to design public policy that applies to every Montanan.  She says when it comes to the legislature's priorities, public health is at the top of her list and hearing from health forum participants gives her an idea of what folks need by way of legislation, from mental health to early childhood development.

Smith says, it's legislators like Pomnichowski's willingness to listen, combined with the Gallatin County community that makes her optimistic.

"We still have a lot to do so, trying to figure all those pieces out, it's tough, but we have a constituency with great heart and great desire," says Smith.

Lawmakers head to Helena for the start of the new session in January.