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Montana Developmental Center - An Update

The news coverage of the incidents of abuse and neglect at the Montana Developmental Center (MDC) in the past months resulted in an invitation by the Interim Finance Committee to discuss MDC at its December 2nd meeting. Just prior to DRM's presentation, DPHHS announced it would be retaining an expert, David Ferlenger, to consult with them and advise them of next steps to “ensure that any changes are consistent with the short and long-term interests of those needing the state’s care. . . .”

DRM is glad the administration is looking into changing the status quo with MDC. However, we have had experts come to the state before to study MDC and it has not resulted in change. The Pennhurst group studied MDC in 2007 and found that:

  1. residents received little treatment,
  2. staff and residents alike spent much of their days in idle pursuits,
  3. staff did not know how to reinforce appropriate behavior and discourage aggressive behavior, and
  4. treatment classes and activities were often cancelled.

It went on to find that “[t]raining is evidently seriously needed for direct support [staff] to understand active treatment, behavioral interventions and levels of expectation for competent interactions.” Even mandatory training was not being provided and staff frequently failed to show up for the training that was provided.

The Pennhurst Group also found that the levels of staff overtime were two to four times the expectation. The Group found that this indicated inadequate supervision and accountability; low morale; and inadequate levels of staff in certain positions and at certain times.

Today, seven years later, these things have not changed. MDC is down 22 staff, many of which are supervisory or professional positions. A recent legislative staff report noted that MDC needs 24 more full-time employees than it has already to adequately run the facility. These problems cannot be solved by increased funding, as much of it is a result of the limited labor pool in Boulder as well as its remote location.    

We cannot afford to wait any longer for serious and permanent change in how we serve people who are involuntarily committed to MDC. DRM will not be satisfied until there is a legally enforceable timeline to transform our system to one that is effective, safe, fair and complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Click the following links for additional information:

Legislative Fiscal Division memo to Members of the Legislative Finance Committee, dated November 28, 2014

Richard H. Opper, Director of Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, letter to Members of the Legislative Finance Committee, dated December 2, 2014

Resume of David Ferlenger, J.D.

Legislative Work

The 2015 legislative session will soon be upon us! DRM Board of Directors adopted the following legislative values to guide our work.

  1. We support measures to expand availability and access to community based health care and disability services.  We support measures to reduce the use of institutional placements for people with disabilities in favor of community services so people may participate fully in community life by exercising choice and self-determination.
  2. We support the continued improvement and reform of state investigation and oversight of abuse and neglect in state facilities.  We will work to eliminate the current conflict of interest when DPHHS is forced to conduct impartial investigations into its own facilities and their practices.
  3. We will defend the constitutional, civil and human rights of people with disabilities, including the right to vote, the right to due process, and the right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.
  4. We believe that all stakeholders must fully discharge their responsibilities to people with disabilities, including schools, private and public insurance providers and state government employees.  We will support measures to ensure this and oppose those that allow these entities to avoid their responsibilities.
  5. We support the prompt and responsible discharge of people with disabilities from institutional placements to support their full reintegration back into their communities.
  6. We value the supports and quality services provided by direct care providers and support the work they do. We advocate for a care system that is adequately, equitably, and sustainably funded.

As we have in prior years, we will be producing a short legislative e-newsletter nearly every Friday during the session to keep you up to date on issues we care about. From critical decision making during the budget process, to monitoring our institutions, to protecting the disability community’s civil rights, we will endeavor to provide concise information to keep you informed and enable you to participate in the process. We are very lucky that our legislators are far more accessible than in other states. Make sure they hear from you!

Welcome Bridgitt and Kryss!

We are excited to announce the addition of two staff to DRM. Bridgitt Erickson was hired as a staff attorney and Kryss Kontz was hired as an advocate. We are really thrilled to have them both on staff.

Bridgitt Erickson:

Bridgitt grew up in Nebraska and earned a Bachelor’s degree in English (B.A.) from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, where she was elected Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated summa cum laude in 1985. She earned a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) from Crieghton University Law School, a private Jesuit University in Omaha, Nebraska in 1988.

After 15 years in trial practice, including both prosecution and defense of death penalty cases, the evidence was irrefutable: education works better than incarceration to change lives. So in 2003, Bridgitt returned to graduate school to study the professional development and delivery of educational programs and services. From 2001-2006, she served as a Board Trustee for Public School District #38, and completed a Master’s Degree in Education Administration (M.Ed) in 2006.

Bridgitt served as the Chief Hearing Officer for the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services’ Office of Fair Hearings from 2008-2014. After a year-long examination process by the US Office of Personnel Management, Bridgitt was appointed to the Federal Register of Administrative Law Judges in March, 2014.

In addition to the law, Bridgitt loves the arts and all sports. She enjoys art auctions, exhibits, and musical and athletic performances across the state. At her home in the mountains, she spends her personal time rafting, hiking, and skiing in the surrounding forests with her dogs.
Kryss Kuntz:

Kryss is a born and bred native Helena girl. She graduated from Capital High School and takes pride in knowing her class was the second to graduate from Capital High in 1976. She remembers naming the school, the mascot, the drill team and much more. Kryss knew upon graduating high school that she wanted to teach or work with people that are deaf. She graduated from MSU-Billings with a BS degree in Education/Special Education. She did her student teaching in Kilmarnock, Scotland, at an all deaf oral school. After graduation, she went to St. Paul, Minnesota to learn how to become an Interpreter for the Deaf and graduated.  

Kryss has held a variety of positions but her true love is working with and for people with Disabilities. She started out as the Equipment Distribution Specialist for the Montana Telecommunications Access Program and travelled the state distributing telecommunication devices for the deaf, hard of hearing, and speech impaired. She then became the Executive Director of MTAP, she knows a lot about telecommunication equipment and how the relay service works for those that are deaf and hard of hearing. Kryss has been an interpreter for the deaf for 32 years and has enjoyed the variety of opportunities this has given her. She was the first person to sign the State of the State Address with Governor Stan Stephens and then with Governor Marc Racicot. Kryss, has worked off and on, for a variety of school district’s, her first job was in Kalispell, then Billings, Bozeman and Helena. Kryss has always been interested in all disabilities not just that of the deaf, so she spread her wings and went to work for Montana Independent Living Project (MILP)  as an Independent Living Specialist. It was through MILP that she was trained by Social Security to become a Certified Work Incentive Counselor. This offered Kryss a wide range of understanding of how the Social Security system works for those with disabilities.

Kryss is excited to be working for Disability Rights Montana and feels that her skills and knowledge will be a good fit. To quote her directly she says she has found her “work home” and is excited to get to know another side of disability advocacy.