Across the country, states have been reexamining and reconsidering their use of congregate care institutions to serve their citizens with intellectual disabilities. Ten states including Michigan, New Mexico and Oregon, as well as the District of Columbia, have entirely abolished this type of institution, and others are discussing or planning to do the same. It is time for Montana to join this conversation.
The statutory length of time for a commitment to the Montana Developmental Center (MDC) is a whole year. Unfortunately, some people stay at MDC even after their commitment is over because they have no place to go in their communities. This is the result of the great unmet need in our communities for supports for people with intellectual disabilities. When someone is committed to MDC, often their spot is taken by the next person on the consistently long waiting list, leaving the institutionalized person without a place to return once they stabilize.
$770 per day per resident
The Montana Developmental Center can house up to 56 people with developmental disabilities. According to Montana’s Legislative Fiscal Division, it employs 258 people full time, and it cost $15.7 million to operate in 2012. That amounts to $280,000 per year per person, or $770 per day per resident. It is the most expensive institution in Montana.
This cost does not decrease as admissions decrease as most of these are fixed costs. The cost of this institution has risen steadily over the last five years. Meanwhile, Montana community services providers have to endure low rates of reimbursement for their work and even had promised rate increases taken away as a means to address governmental fiscal concerns.
We can do better. We can create a system where people with intellectual disabilities are treated just like everyone else. They, like everyone else, would live in their homes in the town of their choice. They would go to work and have fun with their friends. When Time to consider an end to congregate care institutions they have a health crisis, they would go to a hospital or other health care setting for intensive help. And when they stabilize, they would be released to go home — just like everyone else. To do this, we need to support and expand our current infrastructure of services. We need to pay providers a fair rate so they can maintain a competent and satisfied workforce and increase their contribution to local economies across the state. But most of all, we need vision.
We saw vision during this past summer. After receiving testimony regarding a report about serious errors in an internal sexual assault investigation at MDC, state Sen. Mary Caferro proposed that the Children and Families Interim Committee draft a bill to begin a process to *close the MDC and serve people in community settings instead. The motion passed and a comprehensive bill was drafted. At the next meeting, the bill was stalled on a 4 to 4 vote of the committee. However, this has not ended the conversation and we look forward to discussion about these important issues in the 2013 Montana Legislative session.
* Note: The revival of a bill to phase out the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder, Mont., was short-lived, as it failed on a 26-to-23 Senate vote Thursday, Mar. 21, 2013. Senate Bill 254 was “blasted” from a committee Wednesday by the Senate at the request of sponsor Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena. Although the committee had tabled the bill — which usually kills it — a majority of senators wanted to more thoroughly discuss its merits and voted to bring it to the Senate floor. Caferro’s bill called for creating a group of stakeholders to plan the reduction of MDC’s population to no more than 12 people by the end of 2014. That group also would decide whether a scaled-down facility at Boulder should be retained or whether clients who needed the type of care MDC is supposed to provide should be treated at other facilities. The vote was bi-partisan in this sense: 18 Republicans and five Democrats voted for it, while 12 Republicans and 14 Democrats voted against it. Read reporter Eve Byron’s story in the Helena Independent Record.
We have a wonderful opportunity before us. We have a chance to look at what we really need in Montana to serve people with intellectual disabilities. We have a chance to do the right thing and create a true infrastructure to provide supports and home health care across the state. Please contact us if you would like to help this effort: www.disabilityrightsmt. org.
Bernie Franks-Ongoy is executive director of Disability Rights Montana. Beth Brenneman is a DRM staff attorney. Disability Rights Montana has been a regular contributor to Apostrophe magazine since 2008.