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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Closure Of Montana Developmental Center Raises Complex Questions

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

Since the Montana Legislature voted earlier this year to close the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder and transition its roughly 60 clients to community based group homes, a committee of lawmakers and community members has been working out the details of the transition. Thursday that committee took a tour of the MDC campus in Boulder.

Acting Superintendent Tammy Ross leads the tour. She’s been in charge of MDC since May, when Superintendent Gene Haire retired, just after lawmakers voted to close the facility after a long history of reports of client abuse by staff and by other clients.

Most of the 60 or so "clients" who have been sent to MDC by court order live in five housing units laid out like small college dorms: individual bedrooms which open onto a common area with a kitchen and recreation space.  

The buildings date from 1996, but most of the windows are even newer. In fact, operations Director Bruce Giulio says they’ve been replacing a lot of broken windows lately, more than 50 just since the legislature started talking about closing MDC.

"Since the talk of closure it has went nuts. Just the other day, last Saturday it was seven windows in one unit," Giulio says.

Among the members of the transition committee is Jefferson County Commissioner Bob Mullen.

"My role is the same as everybody else on the council," Mullen says, "and that's to find new community-based services for the people who are being served here currently at MDC. Beyond that, I think I have a role to work at repurposing the campus here in Boulder so we can find a new use that's beneficial to both the state and the community of Boulder."

Mullen is also concerned with the fate of the 250 people who work at MDC, especially since most of them live in the surrounding community.

"There aren’t a lot of other jobs to go around, so most folks of course are gonna have to - if there isn't something new to come into  this facility real quick - those folks are gonna have to look for work, and more than likely it's going to be away from this community," Mullen says.

But probably the most complicated question surrounding the closure of MDC involves the fate of the people being treated here because a court ruled they are a danger to themselves or others. The legislature bowed to disability-rights activists and some family members who said community based group treatment would be safer, and more in line with the Americans With Disabilities Act, which calls for treatment in the "least restrictive" environment possible.

But during a briefing before the tour, an MDC staff member spoke at length about the difficulty of finding group homes willing to will take clients who are potentially violent, a difficulty that may become more acute as MDC closes. The staff member was not permitted to do an interview for this report.

See a slideshow of the MDC tour here.

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