“We have concluded that every major legislative argument in favor of closing MDC was false. But it is not too late.”
The following guest editorial appeared in the Missoulian and Montana Standard (Butte) today.
MDC closure premature, dangerously wrong
Guest column – Missoulian – February 22, 2016
ERIK BURKE and FIVE CO-SIGNERS
Last summer, Gov. Steve Bullock appointed us, along with several other Montanans, to serve on the Montana Developmental Center Transition Planning Advisory Council. The Montana Legislature created this council through Senate Bill 411, the bill that seeks to close MDC in Boulder.
Through seven council meetings and nearly eight months of work, we have been immersed in studying and analyzing Montana’s system of care for our developmentally disabled citizens.
The more we learn, the more obvious it is that the legislature’s decision to close MDC was severely short-sighted and based on false premises. We believe it is critical to correct these false premises so Montana can truly consider all options in serving developmentally disabled Montanans, their families and their communities.
False Premise 1: MDC is fraught with abuse that can only be addressed through closure.
• Abuse is not acceptable in any care facility. But reports of abuse at MDC have been drastically overblown. MDC is held to a far greater standard of reporting and investigation than any private community provider. As such, many “abuse” incidents are very minor, such as patients yelling at each other.
• Most patients served at MDC are there because they have a tendency toward violence and aggression. They have mental illness as well as developmental disabilities. They present a danger to themselves and others. Many of them will assault others.
• Private providers serving similar populations experience aggressive behaviors to the same extent as MDC. At our last meeting, we learned that just one community provider, AWARE in Butte, had 18 incidences of substantiated abuse/aggression in the last year and two in the last month, with at least one resulting in felony charges against an AWARE staffer. Private providers have told us of police being called to intervene in physical altercations at group homes in other Montana communities, also.
False Premise 2: Serving patients in the private sector will cost less.
• Private providers have testified at nearly all our council meetings. Most say the private sector can’t serve MDC patients without major increases in the rates they receive from the state. This would raise costs far beyond estimates suggested in legislative testimony.
• Private providers have also testified that it would be impossible for them to serve all clients currently at MDC. That’s why our council unanimously passed a motion last summer saying the state should maintain a placement of last resort for MDC clients.
• Building and maintaining new housing for just a fraction of the population needing a provider of last resort would cost the state nearly $10 million, according to official estimates. This is nearly five times what it would cost to maintain and upgrade MDC facilities for the same purpose.
• Staff training, plus new investments in safety, policing and crisis treatment, all must be factored into the costs of providing services in private facilities. When considering these costs, keeping MDC open actually presents significant cost savings compared to private placements.
False Premise 3: Private community placements are preferable because they provide a less restrictive environment.
• Several parents and guardians of MDC patients who testified before our council suggest the opposite is true. Private placements can be even more restrictive and isolating for their sons or daughters.
• Many parents are extremely worried that if MDC closes, one violent outburst in a community setting could land their son or daughter in jail or a hospital incapable of providing appropriate care.
• This heartbreaking scenario has already occurred since MDC has been unable to accept new patients in light of SB411. One private provider told us a patient in Missoula recently was jailed after a violent outburst. Before SB411, he almost certainly would have gone to MDC as the least restrictive setting possible. Instead, this child in an adult body sat crying day after day in a jail cell.
We have concluded that every major legislative argument in favor of closing MDC was false. But it is not too late. We recommend that the Bullock administration and Montana Legislature reconsider the closure of MDC.
We urge them to bring legislation to the 2017 Legislature repealing SB411 and maintaining MDC as a provider for patients who cannot be served successfully elsewhere.
Closing MDC is a premature, simplistic, dangerously wrong answer to a much more complex problem.
This opinion is signed by the following members of the Montana Developmental Center Transition Planning Advisory Council: Carol Dailey of Bozeman, parent of an MDC client; Diana Crawford of Valier, parent of a former MDC client; Carl Seilstad, Fergus County commissioner; Rep. Kirk Wagoner of Montana City; Bob Mullen, Jefferson County commissioner; and Erik Burke, executive director of MEA-MFT.