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For immediate release: September 10, 2018

Contact:  Roberta Zenker, 441-4289; 581-6484

Report Documents Use of Solitary Confinement and Subculture of Assault at Pine Hills Youth

Correctional Facility

A report available today documents the use of solitary confinement at Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility (Pine Hills) as a matter of policy, as well as a culture of fighting and assaults of youth inmates at the facility.  Disability Rights Montana conducted an investigation this summer after a credible allegation from an employee of the facility, and gathered records, conducted interviews, toured the facility and produced this report.

“While there are many positive aspects of the program and staff at Pine Hills, we were surprised to learn solitary confinement is actually provided for in facility policy as a means of behavior management and to meet out punishment,” said Roberta Zenker, staff attorney at DRM who conducted the investigation. “It is a practice that has proven time and again injurious, particularly to developing adolescents.  It absolutely must stop.”

A now former employee, Tony Navarro, reported in May of this year that youth were kept in solitary confinement for sometimes months at a time.  He also pointed to several assaults upon youth by other youth that went without consequences for the perpetrators, and so tacitly condoned by staff at the facility.   Tony Navarro tried to change things internally by bringing these issues to the attention of his supervisors, but got no response.  Mr. Navarro is to be commended for following through and reporting these serious allegations so that they can be addressed in order to bring about positive improvements for the youth at Pine Hills.

“I don’t want to get nobody in trouble, I just want to help the kids,” Mr. Navarro stated throughout the investigation.  “It’s all about the kids.”

For a copy of the Report, visit or call (406) 449-2344.   

Press Release (PDF File)

Investigative Report (PDF File)

Disability Advocates file amicus brief with Montana Supreme Court

On August 29, 2018 Disability Rights Montana, the Arc of Montana, Family Outreach, MILP and Opportunity Resources Incorporated filed an amicus brief in a case in front of the Montana Supreme Court.  The Appellants are appealing a denial of a preliminary injunction by the district court.  The injunction was to enforce a restrictive covenant in a Missoula neighborhood to prohibit a couple from turning their home into an assisted living facility.  The amicus was filed urging the Montana Supreme Court to find against the Appellants and uphold the denial of the injunctioin.

Click here for a .PDF copy

Disability Advocates Sue State Over Medicaid Cuts

July 31, 2018

HELENA – Disability rights advocates from across Montana sued the state today, alleging cuts to Medicaid reimbursement rates imposed by the Department of Public Health and Human Services are illegal and put Montanans with physical and mental disabilities at serious risk of institutionalization.

"This lawsuit is the direct result of unlawful and unconstitutional decisions by the state that threaten significant and long-lasting harm to Montanans and their families," said Beth Brenneman, attorney for Disability Rights Montana. "The new rates have wreaked havoc on the community-based Medicaid services system. With this action today, we join providers and recipients of Medicaid services across the state in demanding an immediate end to these cuts."

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in state District Court in Helena, include organizations that serve Montanans with developmental disabilities, mental illness and serious physical disabilities, as well as individuals who receive services through those providers.

The lawsuit is the second filed this summer in state District Court against the state and the department over Medicaid cuts that were initially the result of actions by the 2017 Legislature. In June, the Montana Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes and assisted living centers, sued the state and the department over the cuts.

Last summer, the department proposed cuts to Medicaid reimbursement rates of 3.47 percent, arguing the move was necessary to implement budget cuts included in Senate Bill 261. The department later reduced those cuts to 2.99 percent. But while initially saying they would last for only a matter of months, the department then decided to extend the cuts through fiscal year 2019.

The plaintiffs argue that the cuts were made in an "arbitrary, unlawful and unconstitutional manner," including by improperly targeting the cuts to community-based services for those with disabilities.

"The Department failed to follow almost every requirement of the Montana Administrative Procedure Act in proposing the rate cuts," the lawsuit states. "The rule-making notices of the cuts to Medicaid rates proposed by the Department in late June 2017 were not based on information in existence at the time of the cuts, but were done ‘in anticipation’ of such information. They were not supported by any official documentary or fiscal evidence."

Although Gov. Bullock announced last week that surplus revenue will be used to "backfill" economic losses, the lawsuit notes that legal action, including a temporary restraining order against the state, are still necessary because it remains unclear when or how the rates will be restored, or how programs will be refunded.

"The petitioners have not been made whole. And the question of the department’s blatant violation of MAPA remains unresolved," the plaintiffs state in their application for a restraining order.

Since the cuts were implemented, Medicaid providers across the state have been forced to stop providing certain services entirely, closed offices or ended services to individuals who previously had received them. Without assistance, many currently receiving community-based services could be forced into institutional settings.

Prior to the rate reductions, for instance, targeted case management services for individuals with mental illness were reimbursed at $18.22 for 15 minutes per adult, and $19.45 for 15 minutes for a child. After rate cuts, the reimbursement rates were $8.19 per 15 minutes for both children and adults. Such cuts have had a devastating impact on community-based mental health services.

Given that these cuts were to multiple Medicaid providers, the effects have been felt throughout the system. "My sons who have severe physical disabilities lost critical supports because of these cuts," said Vicki LaFond Smith of her sons who are plaintiffs in the action. "The cuts caused us to lose good staff we trusted, and finding new staff is going to be hard even with the rates restored, as they were already low paying jobs."

The seven-count lawsuit also accuses the state of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act

For Media Inquiries Contact: Beth Brenneman 406-449-2344

Click here for a .PDF copy

Now Hiring: Paralegal

Disability Rights Montana seeks to hire an experienced Paralegal.  The Paralegal works under the supervision of the Attorney Work Group to support and assist staff attorneys to carry out the legal priorities, objectives, and casework of the agency. 

Applicant must be self-motivated, have the ability to problem solve through research, demonstrate proficient writing skills, have fluent computer knowledge, and be able to communicate effectively with people with disabilities, family members, and providers.   

Applicant must also be familiar with Federal and Montana Rules of Civil Procedure, Federal and Montana Rules of Evidence, Federal and Montana Uniform District Court Rules, local court rules, and applicable citation manuals.  

Applicant must have a minimum of three years of qualifying experience, a diploma, degree, or certification in paralegal studies, or work equivalent.    

Position is located in Helena, Montana.  Some travel may be required.  Salary is commensurate with experience.  A generous benefit package includes paid time off, 403(b) retirement plan, health, life, dental, vision, long term care insurance, and professional development.   

Please submit a letter of interest and resume by August 17, 2018 to: 

Kelli Kaufman 

Director of Finance & Administration 

1022 Chestnut Street 

Helena, MT 59601 

or by email to: 

Dismantling of Our Community System of Services by DPHHS

Something historic is happening in Montana.  The community system of services that keep people with disabilities living and contributing to their communities is being dismantled.  It is also being dismantled by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS).

There have been many stories recently about the effects of the recent cuts to Medicaid services.  They have been about cuts brought about by legislative enactments in the general 2017 legislative session, cuts brought about as a result of the November 2017 special session and more obscurely, cuts that have occurred because of contractual actions on the part of DPHHS.

These cuts have been to community services provided by private non-profit businesses.  These cuts have largely not been to any institution run by MT DPHHS. This is blatantly discriminatory, as it will force people into the most restrictive settings for care.  It is a travesty that will take years from which to recover.

There is plenty of blame to go around.  However, now, while there is no legislature in session, we desperately need to hear from our Governor as to how we are going to right this wrong.  

Although options to address this crisis are limited, they exist.  We need to hear from our leader that there is a plan to address and repair our system - whether it be via options provided to him by Senate Bill 9 or a supplemental appropriation. 

At a recent hearing, we heard of someone who went into psychiatric crisis and attempted suicide after receiving a letter from MT DPHHS about cuts to services.  The public needs to know now that there is a plan.  They need to know that our leader cares about their fate.

Click here for an explanation of how SB9 includes two funding mechanisms through which a portion of agency HB 2 budget reductions may be mitigated. 

Click here for the FY 2018 General Fund Revenue Update #2 prepared by Legislative Fiscal Division.

After cutting case management, Mental Health Center looks at deeper funding cuts

Published in the Billings Gazette, January 27, 2018
By Susan Olp

Already grappling with cuts to Medicaid reimbursement rates, the South Central Montana Regional Mental Health Center now fears it could be looking at even deeper cuts.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services is proposing revising three codes relating to chemical dependency services that will affect the center’s reimbursement rates. A hearing on the changes will be held Thursday in Helena.

The Mental Health Center offers mental health and chemical dependency treatment in an 11-county area. It has offices in Billings, Hardin, Red Lodge, Columbus, Big Timber, Roundup and Lewistown. Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Gallatin loses mental health caseworkers due to state cuts

Published in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle January 27, 2018

By Katheryn Houghton, Chronicle Staff Writer

Come February, Breanna Hume’s job won’t exist. Until then, she’s trying to transfer some of her three-dozen clients who live with a destabilizing mental health illness to other case managers in Bozeman.

But her options are running out for those people who need help connecting to things like doctor’s appointments, rehab and therapy. And Hume is watching her field dwindle as a symptom of Montana lawmakers stabilizing the budget.

“It’s terrifying,” Hume said, a case manager with Winds of Change based in Bozeman. “If the people fall out of services, they will mentally decompensate. I don’t think lawmakers understand what that looks like, or that like anyone else, they’re just one life event away from being in a mental health crisis.” Click here to read the article in its entirety.

$8.9M Cut to dental services will hit Montana's elderly, disabled hardest

Holly K. Michels,  December 17, 2017

Helena - Dentists around the state are concerned that $8.9 million in cuts to Medicaid dental services enacted during a special session of the Legislature last month will severely impact the state's elderly and disabled.

In response to an anticipated revenue shortfall and the most expensive fire season in state history, Gov. Steve Bullock in August asked departments to propose 10 percent reductions totaling $227 million to balance the budget. Those proposals were eventually whittled down to $76 million, but cuts to dental services remained on the chopping clock when the Legislature convened last month.

States are required to provide a level of dental coverage for children covered by Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, but benefits for adults are optional. Click here to read the article in its entirety.

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DRM Board of Directors Meeting

The DRM Board of Director's meeting is scheduled for September 28, 2018 - 9:00 a.m - 3:00 p.m. at the Disability Rights Montana office located at 1022 Chestnut Street, Helena, Montana 59601.

Click here for the agenda.


DRM Board of Directors Meeting

The DRM Board of Director's meeting is scheduled for Friday, July 27, 2018 from 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m., at the Disability Rights Montana office located at 1022 Chestnut Street, Helena, Montana 59601. The public is welcome. If you wish to attend, please call our office at 406-449-2344 or 1-800-245-4743 and let us know whether you need an accommodation.

Click here for the agenda.

DRM releases its March 15, 2018, electronic newsletter

Articles include updates to cuts to DPHHS Services, voting for people with disabilities, announcing the retirement of Laurie Danforth, DRM Paralegal and introducing our new advocacy specialist, Becky Fleming-Siebenaler. Click this link to the newsletter.

Disability Rights Montana's specialty license plate is now available. You can purchase the plate by visiting your county treasurer's office. A one-time administrative fee and production cost for the specialty plate will be collected along with the standard vehicle registration fee and sponsor donation fee.

DRM License Plate Design

$20 Yearly Tax-deductible Donation to DRM
$10 One-time Administration Fee
$10 One-time Production Cost

Please show your support with the DRM license plate! Your purchase of the plate includes a $20 tax-deductible donation to support DRM and its work to protect the rights of Montanans with disabilities.

Montana Mental Health Care Advance Directive

With the creation of advance medical care directives being so popular, people are also asking if they need a Mental Health Care Advance Directive to document their wishes for treatment and care in the event that they become incapacitated through a mental illness. The purpose of the Mental Health Care Advance Directive is to "promote more timely, informed, compassionate, and effective mental health care," among others. See Mont. Code Ann. § 53-21-1301. Disability Rights Montana has created a form and instructions to assist people who experience mental illness to prepare a Mental Health Care Advance Directive to prepare for the possibility that they may become unable to express their own wishes regarding their care and treatment. A Mental Health Care Advance Directive provides the legal authority for provision of mental health care during a period of incapacity, even over the person’s own protests. Mont. Code Ann. § 53-21-1301.

This Mental Health Care Advance Directive form and associated documents and instructions are not legal advice, nor are they a substitute for consultation with an attorney. Click here to download the Montana Mental Health Care Advance Directive form.

DRM Education Website and Student Rights Handbook

Disability Rights Montana launched its Education Website and published its Student Rights Handbook. The project is designed to help parents, advocates, and educators learn about the legal requirements and resources available for students with disabilities and to help ensure the civil and legal rights of students with disabilities are protected to the maximum extent of the law. The site focuses on the educational rights of children with disabilities, but also covers information applicable to students with disabilities of all ages. Our Education Website can be accessed here on our home page by clicking "Education" on the Menu Bar above or directly at The Student Rights manual can be found on the site or directly at  

On the site you will find information about DRM′s education workgroup, the legal rights of students with disabilities, resources for parents, students and educators, and sample forms to assist parents and advocates in protecting student’s rights. It is our hope that this website will be a valuable resource for everyone working to educate Montanans of all abilities. 

We welcome feedback and comments for how we can improve our Education Website as well as information about resources and practitioners we should include. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to contact DRM. DRM’s Education Website and Student Rights Handbook were authored by Tal Goldin, supervising attorney for DRM’s Education Unit, with editing assistance from Kelsi Steele, DRM Education Advocate, and Laurie Danforth, DRM paralegal and executive assistant. The project was supported in part by a generous grant from the Montana Justice Foundation.


Best Practices in Community Services for People Who Have Developmenta...

Below is a video of a converation with Allan Bergman with a positive view of the national movement to close institutions, as it has led to the creation of systems that help people live fuller and more positive lives than they had in institutional settings.

This video is a follow-up to the first in the bipartisan public education series "Best Practices in Community Services for People who have Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities" which was held on March 23, 2016, at the Montana Capitol. The bipartisan public education series was developed by Senator Ed Buttrey and Senator Mary Caferroto to help build More....

DRM Releases Report
Disability Rights Montana released a report January 23, 2015, with significant details of numerous case stories of abuse and neglect at the Montana Developmental Center.  Investigations conducted by the Department of Justice over the course of the past year reveal that twenty-seven staff members, including the Director of Quality Assurance and Superintendent, have been involved in the case stories.  Some of the cases involve serious injuries, rape, and felony assault.   

DRM has monitored MDC for more than twenty years, and cites a climate and culture at MDC that perpetuates and tolerates abuse.  The cases cited in the report document slapping, grabbing, squeezing, pulling residents by the ankles, throwing them hard to the ground, kneeling o More....

Overview of the 2017 Legislative Session

We went into the session with some very good proposals from interim committees and the Sentencing Commission. These included bipartisan proposals to expand waiver slots for senior and long term care by 200 over the biennium to address a waiting list of over 500, to create an interdisciplinary committee to review our antiquated guardianship laws, provide funding for the area agencies on aging and for respite services, funding for housing to transition people from prison to the community, licensure of peer support specialists for people with mental illness, suicide prevention efforts, and reforms to the current sexual assault laws to more appropriately address how sexual assault actually occurs.

These proposals were great ideas and many were successful More....