- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A Montana House committee is scheduled this week to take up a proposal to shut down a state facility for developmentally disabled people following reports of abuse and neglect.

The bill goes to the House Health Services Committee Wednesday after the state Senate on Saturday voted to gradually close the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder and send most or all of its 50 or so residents to community-based programs, the Helena newspaper the Independent Record (https://tinyurl.com/otakvws ) reported.

At a news conference Monday, Disability Rights Montana executive director Bernadette Franks-Ongoy said her advocacy group had tracked “a tremendous amount of abuse” at the center for 20 years. Bill sponsor Sen. Mary Caferro said the Department of Justice reported 73 instances of abuse and neglect, including two cases of sexual assault, in the past 14 months.

Earlier this year, a client at the center reported he had been sexually abused by another client. The state Department of Justice investigated and determined that sexual abuse occurred and that two staff members were negligent.

At Monday’s news conference, Stacy Fisk said her 26-year-old son, who is autistic and deaf, was beaten by other clients when he was at the center from September 2011 to June 2012. The center provided no autism specialist and only one staff member knew sign language and could communicate with her son, Fisk said. She said drugs were relied on to modify his behavior and his physical health deteriorated, with his weight dropping from 160 to 124 pounds. He is now at a group home and is doing well, she said.

Another parent contacted by the Independent Record said her son thrived at the center. Carol Dailey, who earlier testified to the Legislature, told the newspaper her developmentally disabled son was able to work and participate in activities at the center, and that she was concerned about where he would go if it were to close. He has been abused in group homes and refused a place at other facilities because he has a history of aggressive behavior, Dailey said.

Jefferson County Commissioner Leonard Wortman worried about the economic impact on Boulder, telling the newspaper the town is home to 250 center employees.

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Information from the Independent Record: https://helenair.com/

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