Disability Rights

Consider options other than the institution


The members of the Children, Families, Health and Human Services Committee of the Montana Legislature visited the institution, Montana Developmental Center, (MDC) in Boulder on Sept. 6, 2013. The visit included a briefing by MDC staff, a tour of the facility, question and answers, and public comment. The Committee is conducting a study of State operated public institutions that serve individuals with intellectual disabilities to determine if changes to the current system of facilities could provide more effective treatment and serve individuals in a more cost effective manner.

Bernadette Franks-Ongoy photo

Bernadette Franks-Ongoy is the executive director of Disability Rights Montana.

In their opening remarks to the Committee, MDC staff stated that the purpose of MDC is to provide “short-term intensive treatment” with the goal of length of stay of six months to a year.

That stated purpose contemplates that the facility has a specialized intensive service that is otherwise not available in the community and that the service is going to be delivered with a sense of urgency, short term, so that a person can return to the community. That is a purpose that Disability Rights Montana can support.

There is a place for specialized, intensive, short-term treatment, in the continuum of services for people with intellectual disabilities, emphasis on “specialized” and “short.” There are times that people with complex disabilities require intensive intervention. A program or facility that can provide that specialized individual treatment is sometimes the best solution. Admission into such a program is not a failure of the community services, but a compliment, and part of a comprehensive system of services. Intensive short-term crisis intervention should be part of the continuum of services available to support people with intellectual disabilities.

If we agree that “short-term intensive treatment” is part of the continuum of services, the real conversation should be where can that level of services be developed and provided?

Stakeholders, community providers and MDC staff should be talking about what types of specialized intensive services are needed, and asking “Do those services exist at MDC?” “Can they be developed?” “Where best should they be developed?” If we could only free ourselves to consider locations in addition to Boulder, my prediction is we would identify a few stand alone sites or maybe a few co-existing intensive services in different parts of the state. As an example it is well known that there is a group of residents at MDC that have inappropriate sexual behaviors that require intensive treatment. That intensive treatment might appropriately be developed and located in Boulder. It could be an evidenced-based program of excellence.

Some of the other intensive services would probably be more effective and cost effective if located in urban communities where the professional services are more readily available and there is a large pool for direct care staff.

It is incumbent on all of us to do our part and create the environment to start having the conversation so we can evaluate the need and create the complete appropriate continuum of services for people with intellectual disabilities.

Bernadette Franks-Ongoy is the executive director of Disability Rights Montana.

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