Alumni Give $1 Million to Support Psychology Center Expansion, Mental Health Care

Oct. 3, 2019

MISSOULA – University of Montana alumni Summerfield (Sam) and Julie Baldridge have donated $1 million to fund an expansion of UM’s Clinical Psychology Center. The enhanced space will allow UM practitioners to treat up to four times more clients, a boon for western Montana at a time when increased access to mental health services is sorely needed across the state.

“As we seek to provide much-needed support for our state and region, this gift hastens our ability to provide long-term mental health solutions for western Montana,” said Jenny McNulty, interim dean of the UM College of Humanities and Sciences.  

The gift – which counts toward a challenge gift pledged by another donor for this project – jump-starts fundraising for a critical UM priority. When the challenge gift is met, UM will be more than halfway toward the estimated $5 million needed for the facility’s upgrades.

With private support, including the Baldridge gift, UM plans to renovate the first floor and add a second floor to the existing Clinical Psychology Center, built in 1984 and located on the south side of campus.

The center serves clients from around western Montana while acting as a vital training clinic for students in UM’s Clinical Psychology and School Psychology programs. Located on campus, it offers essential psychological services to UM students and others in the community, including adults, children and families. Adult clients come to the center for help with depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties, substance use disorders, health-related behavior challenges and more. Parents refer their children if they have concerns, including disruptive behaviors, attention difficulties, depression, trauma, developmental delays and autism, to name a few.

Alongside individual counseling sessions and psychological evaluations, the center sponsors a number of other programs based on the interests of current student clinicians and faculty expertise. For example, it offers men’s and women’s therapy groups, groups for panic disorder and a therapy group focused on the experiences of transgender adults. It also has a robust program to serve American Indian and Alaska Native students and communities.

The center is particularly valuable to clients with limited financial resources as it charges on a generous sliding scale, providing mental health services to Montanans who are least likely to receive services elsewhere.

“Simply put, if the Clinical Psychology Center were not here, many of our clients would not have access to mental health services,” said Raurie Birch, the center’s director.

The Center’s student clinicians are trained to provide empirically supported treatments, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based approaches. Its clients receive research-based and rigorously tested treatments to help them achieve their goals. UM’s doctoral psychology program – the only one in Montana – is among the nation’s most competitive programs.

Once fully funded, the renovated center will have more treatment rooms with improved soundproofing and windows and will have new areas for assessment and research. The larger facility will allow faculty and staff to integrate students and providers from closely related areas such as social work, clinical neuropsychology and psychiatry to prepare UM students to be leaders in the interprofessional and integrated practice models of the future.

With the expansion, the center’s staff will be able to serve more clients. Faculty and students supervised closely by faculty currently provide 45 to 60 client treatment hours per week, limited by the number of service rooms available. With additional service rooms, testing rooms, training facilities and space for groups, faculty and students will be able to provide up to 200 client treatment hours weekly.

A number of indicators illustrate the importance of expanding mental health care in Missoula and elsewhere, especially in Montana. The suicide rate in Montana has been among the top five in the nation for the past 30 years, making suicide an ongoing public health issue. Multiple counties within the state do not have practicing behavioral health professionals. Specifically, there are 40 counties that do not have any psychiatric nurse practitioners; 40 without a psychiatrist; 31 with no licensed clinical psychologists; and 15 without a licensed clinical social worker.  

“There is such great need for enhanced mental health services in Montana, and UM has all the necessary elements to grow and help meet that need,” Julie Baldridge said. “We are grateful we can help support UM’s growth in a way that is sure to shape individual lives and Montana communities in a truly positive way.”

Sam, a 1978 graduate in history, and Julie, who earned a social work degree in 1979, have given back to UM in numerous ways. Sam and Julie are currently serving as co-chairs of the College of Humanities and Sciences Campaign Montana steering committee, and Julie is a member of the UM Foundation board of trustees. Their philanthropy to UM prior to this gift has supported the Department of Counseling, Irish Studies, the Neural Injury Center, the School of Art and Grizzly Athletics. The Baldridges were recipients of UM’s Community Service Award in 2017. The Whitefish residents serve in volunteer roles for a variety of community organizations in northwest Montana.

The Baldridge gift is part of Campaign Montana, the comprehensive, seven-year fundraising campaign that is inspiring $400 million in philanthropic giving to UM through 2020. Donors will help achieve UM’s vision of a university that puts student success at the forefront, driving excellence and innovation in teaching, research and learning. The campaign is managed by the UM Foundation.