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Facing the loss of federal funding, health department director says State Hospital fixes are underway

The director of the state health department Friday told a legislative oversight committee that changes are being made at the Montana State Hospital to prevent the loss of federal funding. Federal inspectors recently found that some patients at the hospital fell repeatedly and the facility failed to implement COVID-19 mitigation measures, resulting in patient deaths.

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Adam Meier told lawmakers that the hospital will make several changes, including more frequent fall-risk assessments for dementia patients.

“For high fall-risk patients, the following tools are utilized to enhance monitoring. Yellow wrist bands to allow for the ease of visual identification.”

Meier also said the hospital has created a COVID mitigation plan and added that DPHHS is working on staff pay and retention issues.

Meier said federal inspectors will assess the hospital’s plan of correction. If it’s insufficient, the state hospital could lose Medicare funding on March 15.

Children, Families, Health and Humans Services Committee Chair, Democrat Ed Stafman of Bozeman, questioned Meier’s plan.

“As I read all of your points, every one involves the tweaking of a policy, and not a one deals with what seems to be the core issue of staffing and sufficiently trained staff.”

The committee reached consensus on drafting two bills that could appear in the 2023 legislative session that may address safety issues and reduce patient loads. One would assess whether dementia patients at the state hospital could be placed in nursing home facilities, and the other would make reports of abuse, neglect and deaths available to a federally designated advocacy group for people with disabilities in the state.

A motion to write a letter to DPHHS asking it to use COVID relief dollars to increase employee pay and to temporarily bring in the National Guard to assist staff failed on a tie vote.

Aaron Bolton is Montana Public Radio's Flathead Valley reporter.