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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Gov. vetoes new reporting requirements for the state hospital

A sign pointing to the entrances of the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs, MT.
Courtesy Montana State Hospital
Montana State Hospital
A sign pointing to the entrances of the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs, MT.

Gov. Greg Gianforte vetoed a bill that would send a watchdog group all reports of neglect, abuse, injuries and deaths at the Montana State Hospital. The veto comes despite unanimous support among lawmakers.

Senate Bill 4 would require the Montana State Hospital to send all neglect, abuse, severe injury and death reports to Disability Rights Montana (DRM), a federally designated patient advocacy group. DRM already has rights under federal and state law to examine those records but has to request them after it finds out about an incident.

Gov. Gianforte wrote in his veto that the bill would violate patient privacy. DRM Executive Director Bernie Franks-Ongoy said Gianforte misunderstood the group’s legal rights to examine private records.

“The only thing that is compromised with the governor’s veto is the health and safety of every patient that is in that hospital,” Ongoy said.

The state hospital has continued to struggle with patient safety since it lost federal certification and funding in 2022 due to patient deaths. MTPR’s reporting found patients continued to experience neglect, abuse and severe injuries following decertification.

MTPR requested the number of substantiated abuse and neglect reports, severe injuries and deaths at the facility from January through April, but state health department spokesperson Jon Ebelt denied the request saying the agency didn’t have a report with those numbers.

However, records from the Montana State Hospital Governance Board meeting on April 11 show that the agency is tracking some of those figures. According to those documents, four patients experienced severe injuries and there were two substantiated abuse and neglect reports from January through mid-April.

Franks-Ongoy said those figures are troubling.

“What it tells us is that the conditions in the hospital continue to be as bad as when it lost its certification,” Ongoy said.

Because over two-thirds of lawmakers voted for SB 4, the secretary of state will send a poll that could allow the Legislature to override Gianforte’s veto. A poll will also be sent on another bill Gianforte vetoed that would transfer state hospital patients with dementia and Alzheimer's to nursing homes.

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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