- Associated Press - Thursday, August 27, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - State officials said Thursday they are looking to move about 15 people out of the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder by October to help alleviate a staffing shortage at the facility.

Dan Villa, Gov. Steve Bullock’s budget director and chairman of the committee overseeing the center’s closure, told the panel that officials are talking with health care providers about moving some of the clients with developmental disabilities and mental health issues to their care.

“The logic is this - we’re going to have a difficult to impossible time filling unfilled staff positions,” Villa said.

Filling about 25 vacant staff positions at MDC has become more challenging since lawmakers passed a bill this year to move most of the 53 residents out by July 2017 largely due to reports of abuse and neglect.

As a result, the staff has been working double shifts and overtime costs are adding up as well as safety concerns, Villa said.

On Friday, a client walked away from the center and Boulder Police Chief Juan Trujillo wound up with a broken ankle as a result of an altercation, according to Rebecca de Camara, developmental services division administrator with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

Trujillo tried to use a Taser on the man but it malfunctioned. De Camara said Trujillo then attempted a leg sweep of the client and he landed on the chief’s leg. The client is now being housed in MDC’s most secure unit.

If clients already waiting to be placed could transition to group homes or other community-based settings, one residential unit could be closed, freeing staff to return to regular shifts and work with about 40 remaining clients as a plan to transition them to community-based care moves forward.

“That’s sort of our best bet at triaging the situation we have,” Villa said.

Although at least 20 clients are waiting for placement, Villa said he’s hoping additional federal grant money will sway providers to accommodate some of the clients by a Sept. 30 deadline.

Committee members Rep. Kirk Wagoner, R-Montana City, and Jefferson County Commissioner Bob Mullen raised concerns about moving so many people at one time and the effect it could have on other clients.

“It seems like we’re moving awfully fast and need some protections in place for clientele,” Mullen said.

Villa said the potential moves are strategic and client driven.

No clients have been placed yet as a result of the conversations. Fran Sadowski of the Missoula Developmental Service Corporation has participated in the talks but said staffing shortages are a problem around the state. Her organization has successfully taken clients from MDC in the past.

“It’s not that we feel we can’t serve some individuals,” she said. “It is a puzzle when you’re bringing somebody in … you have to consider how it affects the other six or seven.”

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