Montana Senate panel rejects bill to downsize Montana Developmental Center

2013-03-18T15:25:00Z 2014-11-28T10:27:38Z Montana Senate panel rejects bill to downsize Montana Developmental Center

HELENA – A Senate committee has rejected a bill that would downsize and possibly close Montana’s state institution for the developmentally disabled.

The Senate Public Health Committee on Friday voted 5-2 against sending Senate Bill 254 to the Senate floor, essentially killing the measure that could have closed the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder.

Those who voted against SB254 said the state is in the middle of trying to make improvements at the center and should be given a chance to carry out those changes.

“I think we have to have faith that (state) management is going to do the right thing, and I’m willing to let that play out,” said Sen. Jason Priest, R-Red Lodge. “It would be draconian to treat the program going forward as though none of these (changes) have happened.”

Yet Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena and sponsor of the bill, said she’s not convinced that MDC is improving the safety and services for its 50-some clients.

The facility has two dozen clients who are ready to be transferred to community-based programs, and the Legislature and state should be doing what they can to speed that process, she said.

“This place is not cleaned up, and people are still not safe there,” Caferro said. “It’s our responsibility as a Legislature to support the least-restrictive environment (for the developmentally disabled).”

Richard Opper, director of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services, which oversees MDC, said Monday the Senate committee’s decision acknowledges that progress has been made under the center’s new management.

“We are committed to providing a safe environment for clients being served at MDC,” he said. “We are equally committed to working with providers to help clients who are ready, move back into the community.”

Opper also said the main reason the two dozen MDC clients haven’t been sent to community programs is that the local providers aren’t necessarily ready to take them.

SB254 called for creating a committee to plan the reduction of MDC’s population to no more than 12 people by the end of 2014. It then would decide whether to keep a scaled-down facility at Boulder or treat people at other state facilities.

The 120-year-old facility in Boulder houses about 50 people who have mental disabilities. Some also suffer from mental illnesses. It employs about 250 people and has an annual budget of $15 million.

In 2010, an MDC staffer pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a developmentally disabled resident. Critics of the facility said then it had shown a “pattern of abuse” toward clients, and a state Justice Department report suggested center officials didn’t cooperate fully with an investigation of the crime and other possible crimes.

Since then, the state has appointed a new superintendent at MDC and vowed to overhaul the center’s focus and staff training.

Caferro tried to amend her bill Friday so any possible MDC closure would be delayed until after the 2015 Legislature, but supporters of the facility said that change didn’t make the bill any better.

“It would create two years of uncertainty, making it very hard to attract employees,” said Sen. Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell, whose district includes Boulder. “So you almost get a self-fulfilling prophecy of poor service. I feel that the Boulder facility is doing a pretty good job.”

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or by email at

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(2) Comments

  1. Leadfoot
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    Leadfoot - November 30, 2014 12:14 am
    Great article, Mike.
  2. Leadfoot
    Report Abuse
    Leadfoot - November 30, 2014 12:13 am
    This is a rarity: a Democrat who wants to spend less, especially when tax funds are being totally wasted. This institution has absolutely no oversight or supervision. A change in directorship never worked for the VA system & it took a total investigation from the ground up to work. These patients are being abused, repeatedly. The families of the abused that are prosecuting only touch the surface. If it requires community mental health care center closure, so be it. The cost per patient is absolutely prohibitive. Don't start with the liberal whine that we can't do enough for the mentally disabled, even if the money is wasted & the administered health care is abusive. This system is being abused & large amounts of tax money is being wasted on salaries of paper pushers who never see a patient. It is too top heavy. The funds need to be channeled directly to the physicians administering the care. The patients are not being protected from abuse by the staff. Because supervision doesn't really care about these patients, why should the staff care about the consequences of their abuse of patients? Correct the system or privatize it for 1/3 the cost.
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