Spring Creek Lodge

The state oversight board for Montana's private programs for troubled teens and adolescents was established after a 16-year-old girl killed herself at Spring Creek Lodge, the now-shuttered program pictured above. The board's majority comes from the industry it regulates.

The bill tabled on Monday to bring residential teen treatment programs under the state health department got new life on Tuesday after a brief reconsideration at the sponsor's request.

Senate Bill 267, carried by Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, re-emerged and will go to the Senate floor for debate after a 7-3 vote following reconsideration on Tuesday. The bill was tabled on Monday after a 6-6 vote in the committee.

The bill had garnered support from virtually everyone involved and saw no opponents last week during its first reading in the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee. Sen. Al Olszewski, R-Kalispell, however, said Monday he didn't believe the Department of Public Health and Human Services could handle any more workload.

Sands' bill would terminate the existing industry-led oversight board and move the programs under the DPHHS Quality Assurance Division, which currently inspects 300 similar facilities, 72 of which cater to youth, such as Shodair Children's Hospital in Helena and Boys and Girls Clubs around the state.

"They handle complaints and make sure that residents are provided for health and safety," Sands told the committee Tuesday. "Those are functions that under the old system, the Department of Labor, they never had any authority over or never did and the board itself failed to do it to protect these kids."

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Chief Legal Counsel for DLI Judy Bovington did concede to the panel last week  that the department had not "done the best job running this program." A Missoulian investigation found that in 12 years, 58 complaints made against programs and individuals had gone without significant discipline by the Private Alternative Adolescent Residential or Outdoor Program board, where program directors make up the majority. The board, which is housed under DLI, has endorsed Sands' proposal.

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On Tuesday, committee chair David Howard, R-Park City, said those concerned about the bill had expressed reservations about DPHHS potentially creating regulations that would mean trouble for their programs.

"I just hope that when this is heard, you listen to them and make sure this is amended so that doesn't happen to them," he said. 

In its current form, Sands' bill would require DPHHS to adopt the PAARP board's current rules and regulations until the health department can create its own.

"I don't see new rules being made at all," she said. 

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