- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A proposal to close the Montana Developmental Center again drew to the state Capitol dozens of parents recounting the facility’s abuse or compassion on Wednesday.

Representatives on the House Human Services Committee heard testimony in Senate Bill 411’s second public hearing. The proposal would create a board to transfer out the facility’s roughly 50 clients and gradually close the center by July 1, 2017.

Opponents of the bill said there’s no other facility in the state where severely mentally disabled adults can live with full-time care and that some clients receive help at the center.

But bill sponsor Sen. Mary Caferro said various assault charges, including 32 incidents reported since Jan. 1, justify transferring all clients to community-based settings.

Beth Brenneman of Disability Rights Montana said in support of the measure that her organization has found seven life-threatening situations at the center since 2001, each followed by broken promises from the administration to address the issues.

Brenneman acknowledged the difficulty of care for such a large group of clients, but she said the facility itself invites problems. It’s difficult to attract psychiatrists and psychologists to the Boulder location, and the layout of individual cottages makes it difficult to keep an eye on everyone there, she said.

“Ideologically we support closure as well because we believe the Americans with Disabilities Act promised a long time ago that people are deserving of being served in the community just like everybody else,” Brenneman said. “And that opinion we share with the U.S. Department of Justice, who is very interested in the Montana Developmental Center.”

Christine Wiley said her 19-year-old son has been preyed on since arriving at the center in April of 2014, when she assumed she could worry less about his safety.

But then the phone calls started, she said. Wiley was informed on three separate occasions that her son was attacked by other clients and once that he ran away after a dispute with a staff member. Then, on Jan. 28, he was sexually abused by another client. Wiley reported the incident and a state investigation ruled in her son’s favor, she said, but that didn’t change anything at the facility.

“MDC supervisors disagreed with the Department of Justice and found instead that my son enjoyed the sexual abuse,” Wiley said. “It is time to close MDC and give my child and all other clients at MDC a proper and safe, dignified life.”

Families opposing the measure said the facility had worked wonders for their relatives.

Gail Beckham said that, after a series of failures at other facilities across the nation, her granddaughter made significant improvements in managing her severe anxiety at the Montana Developmental Center. Kayla became a productive member of society, Beckham said, because of the help she received from the staff in Boulder.

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