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:
residents received little treatment,
staff and residents alike spent much of their days in idle pursuits,
staff did not know how to reinforce appropriate behavior and discourage aggressive behavior, and
- 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.