Montana closes controversial institution

Montana Developmental Center to Close
Montana Developmental Center to Close

Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed new legislation March 6, directing the state Department of Public Health and Human Service to shut the door on one of the state’s most controversial institutions.

“Senate Bill 411 has inspired passionate and heartfelt debate on both sides of the issue,” Governor Bullock said in a statement. “Proponents and opponents alike are genuinely motivated by the best interests of the current and future residents of the Montana Developmental Center (MDC). Indeed, even family members of the residents are divided on this bill.

“Like them, first and foremost, I am committed to ensuring that the population served at MDC has access to the safest and most effective treatment possible.”

Disability Rights Montana has urged the state legislature to close the MDC for years.

In 2013, after the Department botched an investigation into the rape of a resident, the state Legislature passed legislation expanding oversight of  the facility.

In a scathing report released in January 2015, DRM documented a range of stories of  abuse and neglect of facility staff. DRM attributed the lack of safety to the Department’s failure to properly hire and train staff, as well as the facility’s physical layout.

In addition, DRM argued that the facility was a waste of taxpayer money. The center, which once housed 1,000 residents, now houses 50 individuals at an annual cost of more than $300,000 per resident.

Of these 50 residents, 24 have been deemed eligible to transfer into more integrated settings. Nonetheless, the Department only requested enough funding to transition 14 of these residents out of the facility over the next two year period.

The state Senate approved the bill 44-5 and the state House cleared the bill by a 60-40 vote.

“We are very pleased that the governor has taken this progressive and forward-thinking step,” Bernadette Franks-Ongoy, executive director of Disability Rights Montana, told the Missoulian. “And we are looking forward to working with the 15-members transition committee in ensuring a smooth transition for all of the residents and to assure appropriate community services.”

Disability Rights Montana and Disability Rights Washington, which operates this Rooted in Rights website, are part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.