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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Health Department Finalizes New Rules For Private Youth Therapeutic Programs

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services

State health officials recently finalized new rules and regulations for private youth therapeutic programs in the state. The programs were mostly self-regulated until this year when state lawmakers gave the Montana health department oversight.

The new rules for Private Alternative Adolescent Residential Programs, or PAARP, will affect 18 programs statewide and cover everything from staffing ratios to kids’ contact with parents and access to abuse reporting hotlines.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services held a public hearing on the rules back in September where some program owners said the regulations would negatively impact their businesses, particularly night-time staffing ratios. In the final rules announced last week, that ratio was changed from one staff for every 12 kids to 16.

Denise Thorne is the executive director of Wood Creek Academy in Billings. She doesn’t take any issue with the final rules.

"We kind of were anticipating that rules and regulations were gonna happen. So a lot of the things that they're asking for, we already have in place. There’s some minimal things that we have to rearrange like phone calls, weekly, where before it was bi-weekly."

These rules were partially influenced by allegations that led to the closure of Ranch For Kids in Rexford this summer following allegations of physical and psychological abuse DPHHS called credible. 

Dasha Springer attended Ranch for Kids from 2009 to 2011 and says she’s happy the new rules are being put in place, but wishes she was afforded the same protections.

"Why all of a sudden are these rules implemented? Why were the rules not implemented from the start to make sure nothing like that happened to us or to make sure that we had those resources from the beginning?”

The Department of Health and Human Services says officials plan to begin on-site licensing inspections based on the new regulations. Nine programs are due to be inspected before July 1, 2020.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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