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MT Developmental Center reorganizing after 10-percent budget cut

MDC, The treatment and housing center for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is set to close in June 2017.
Dan Boyce

The Montana Developmental Center (MDC) in Boulder is trimming about ten percent from its budget following cuts handed down by the state legislature.

The facility provides treatment to people with developmental disabilities whose aggressive behavior has led the courts to determine they pose a risk to themselves or others. Those in charge at MDC say they are working to make the $1.5 million in annual cuts without compromising safety or standard of care.

MDC Superintendent Gene Haire said the institution has shut down one of its six residential units, doubling-up some clients in other rooms. Eleven positions have been eliminated, largely through attrition. MDC has also cut about 80 percent ($40,000) from the program’s vocational services, or client payroll.

About 50 clients, or residents, are currently committed to MDC. Clinical Director Polly Peterson said they have become accustomed to getting paid a few dollars an hour for a lot of things—essentially basic, household chores.

“If they went out and swept the sidewalk for an hour they could go and get paid for that,” she said.

That’s basically all over now. Haire said they are re-examining what role having a job plays in their treatment.

“We’re looking at each person and specifically what kind of vocational services would address, therapeutically, the reasons that they came here,” Haire said.

Clients will now be taking vocational training courses. If they pass through these courses they can apply to be hired for a select number of jobs on the site where they will get paid again—jobs like doing the laundry or taking care of the facility’s recycling.

“We are very disappointed that they chose rather than to curb administrative costs, they chose to cut the vocational services,” said Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena.

She works for a nonprofit that promotes the rights of the developmentally disabled. She thinks the facility could have found another place to cut the $40,000 cut for client pay. Caferro fought in the legislature this year to shut MDC down completely.

“I believe that the institution has to go,” she said.

She believes the clients could receive more dignified and appropriate care in community treatment centers, at a much lower cost to the state per client. She pointed out:

·        $37,000/year—annual cost per individual in community treatment.

·        $250,000/year—annual cost per individual at MDC

MDC has a total budget this year of around $14 million to treat their 50 or so clients.

“MDC is a very small but expensive piece of the big picture,” Caferro said.

But MDC staff argue it’s a very important piece. On a tour, Clinical Director Polly Peterson stopped outside the closed door of a classroom on the grounds. Inside a group of male clients was talking—MDC’s sex offender treatment program. In the room, the men were hashing out their feelings with a therapist.

“To help the clients to understand what happened when they committed a sexual offense, both in terms of their impulses and also the affect their crime had or their offense had on their victims,” Peterson said.

This report from the Montana Legislative Services Division states six of the clients at MDC have criminal convictions—such as rape and sexual abuse of children. But courts decided the Montana State Prison was not suited for them because of their mental disabilities.

Superintendent Gene Haire said when walking around a controlled environment like MDC, most of the clients seem calm and happy. He said most of the time they are.

“Just because that’s what you observe in the moment doesn’t mean the full stability and the full assistance they need to then go back out into a community setting have had a chance to be fully affective," he added.

He said everybody committed to MDC has been placed there because of a potential of harming themselves or others; some are outright violent. Haire said MDC is equipped to handle these cases in a way community treatment centers are not.

Both Haire and Peterson were brought on to head MDC a couple of years ago, after the facility made headlines for accusations of client abuse by staff. Haire said they are trying to change the image and alter the mission of MDC. It used to be that clients might stay at the facility for many years, in some cases decades. Haire said he wants to work toward MDC being a short-term care facility—to move clients back into a community setting within a year if possible, if it’s safe.

But there is still worry. MDC is managed by the Department of Public Health and Human Services and Director Richard Opper hopes cuts to the program will not become a regular occurrence.

“When you really reduce the budget to the point where we won’t be able to protect the health and safety of these individuals, then you don’t have a viable facility,” Opper said, comparing it to the analogy ‘death by a thousand cuts.’

Much of the money cut from MDC this time around did go toward rate increases for community treatment providers.

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