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PAIMI Public Forum – We Want to Hear From You!

By |2021-04-05T10:02:00-06:00April 5th, 2021|Uncategorized|

We Want to Hear From You!

Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) Program

PUBLIC FORUM

On April 20-22, 2021, representatives from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA), Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) will be conducting a virtual monitoring visit of Disability Rights Montana (DRM), the Protection and Advocacy System for the State of Montana.

SAMHSA/CMHS invites you to send comments about the PAIMI Program services and activities conducted by Disability Rights Montana.

Please send your comments to SAMHSA/CMHS by email to PAIMI@samhsa.hhs.gov or mail to the PAIMI Program Coordinator, SAMHSA/CMHS, 5600 Fishers Lane, Suite 14E25D, Rockville, Maryland 20857.

If you have any questions, please contact:

Bernadette Franks-Ongoy,
Executive Director
Email: bernie@disabilityrightsmt.org
Phone: (406) 449-2344

Christopher wants more than to work part time – he wants a career

By |2021-03-17T15:27:17-06:00March 17th, 2021|Uncategorized|

A picture of Christopher

“I am so grateful for everything that Kathy and CAP-DRM has done for me. I am on my way to being a welder now.”
– Christopher

Disability Rights Montana (DRM) receives the Client Assistance Program (CAP) grant that allows staff to assist Montanans with disabilities navigate and advocate for their employment goals through the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). Obtaining vocational rehabilitation services to regain or obtain employment is a critical support. In Christopher’s case, he wanted to be a full-time veterinarian, not have a part-time job.

Doctors detected a tumor in Christopher’s brain when he was merely 8 months old. Surgery resulted in compromised use of his foot and arm, learning disabilities, and cognitive issues – what can generally be called a traumatic brain injury (TBI). By the time he reached high school, Christopher had dreams and goals just like any other young person.

Christopher started with the State’s VR program when he was 16 years old in the Pre-Employment Transition Services program. When he first applied, his goal was to become a veterinarian, or a veterinarian technician. He wanted a career. VR instead helped Christopher obtain a part-time job working 5 hours a day.

Christopher, with college dreams still intact, also attended adult education classes to prepare for college entrance. However, the Adult Education instructor reported to VR that Christopher was not “college material” and they should just prepare him for a job. Christopher was devastated as he still wanted to experience college and be a veterinarian. VR did not offer tutoring or mentoring for him while he attended classes, even though they were fully aware of his learning and cognitive disabilities. Adult Education and VR directed Christopher away from college and instead of finding other means of helping him, they closed his case. The VR counselor told Christopher if he needed anything else from VR, he would need to re-apply and get on the waiting list. He reapplied three weeks later, because he wanted so much more out of life.

At the same time, this undaunted young man took it upon himself to work hard and pass the college entrance exams for the fall of 2020. He was admitted to college and began studying welding. Christopher loves welding, and he is good at it.

Christopher reached out to Tiffany Costa, a benefits counselor and told her about his experience with VR. Tiffany referred him to CAP at DRM.  He contacted the CAP Advocate and asserted that VR had closed his case without reaching his goal of secondary education. The CAP Advocate investigated his claim and met with the Counselor Supervisor and VR Counselor. The CAP Advocate argued that the client had numerous disabilities and did not understand why his case was closed without meeting his work goal. She pointed out that no tutoring, mentoring, planning, or counseling had taken place on his behalf. She explained that Christopher’s goal was never to permanently work a part-time job, but to go to college and that his case was closed in error.

The CAP Advocate prevailed. VR reopened Christopher’s case and his case priority was upgraded from category 2 to 1. Christopher is receiving counseling services and full VR services including a tutor and mentoring. When next semester starts, Christopher will also receive college tuition to finish his welding program. He has the assistance of the Disability Services Office on campus and the CAP Advocate is monitoring his VR services.

People with disabilities, like Christopher, want meaningful work that allows them to take care of their family and themselves. They do not want to rely on limited government funding.

Each year hundreds of people apply for VR services to enable and support them to obtain meaningful employment. Everyone who applies for VR services is entitled to have an Advocate through DRM’s CAP program.

We invite you to support DRM with a tax-deductible donation, so we can continue to assist many more people like Christopher. To make a donation with a credit or debit card, please click the “Donate” link below to submit your gift electronically. If you would prefer to make a gift using a check, please mail it to our office at:

Disability Rights Montana
1022 Chestnut Street
Helena, MT 59601-0820

Opportunity for Youth with Disabilities

By |2021-02-08T12:07:18-07:00February 8th, 2021|Uncategorized|

Alexis Reed, a Developmental Disabilities Behavior Consultant in Oregon, is currently collaborating with the University of Oregon’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities to share a research opportunity for young people (ages 14-24) with intellectual disabilities. They’ve just expanded their outreach to Montana.

The study is a great way for a young person and their parent or provider to make some money, make an important contribution, and break up the monotony of life during the pandemic!

If you are interested or have any questions, please contact Dr. James Sinclair: (949) 275-6729, jamesin@uoregon.edu. See the flyer below for additional information.

Image of the flyer

Disability Rights Montana’s 2020 Virtual Conference

By |2020-09-16T10:23:35-06:00August 4th, 2020|Uncategorized|

Shifting the Narrative: An Intersectional Approach to Mental Health

Montana, are you ready to Shift the Narrative? We are thrilled to announce our virtual conference on September 14-18, 2020. You will have the opportunity to engage with nationally recognized disability and mental health activists, attorneys, and mental health providers for what will be an impactful experience! The conference will include powerful visions and tools for creating culturally competent, non-discriminatory, and inclusive mental health care systems. Register today!

For more information visit https://tinyurl.com/y2x73dnx

DRM Statement on the Death of George Floyd

By |2020-06-12T15:52:35-06:00June 12th, 2020|Uncategorized|

Once again, we have witnessed vast disparities in our criminal justice system. The death of George Floyd and many others before him have highlighted the racial injustices that has long plagued our nation.

This needs to end.

You may be asking how this is a disability issue.

The answer is simple.

People with disabilities are black, people of color, indigenous people, immigrants, detainees, refugees, members of the LGBT community and every religious group. We are interconnected.

Disability Rights Montana stands with those demanding justice. We believe that ALL people, including those who face oppression by systemic racism, are entitled to equal access to the opportunities and safety afforded to ALL members of our society.

We reject hate. We demand change.

As Desmond Tutu wisely said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

DRM is willing to be part of a broader conversation with all stakeholders to find solutions.

DRM is committed to continue our work to reform the criminal justice system through advocacy and legislation to the benefit of ALL.

MT Shares Annual Raffle

By |2020-06-11T14:36:36-06:00June 11th, 2020|Uncategorized|

The 26th annual Montana Shares raffle is now underway and the drawing will be held on September 18th, 2020. Support Disability Rights Montana and other Montana non-profits and become eligible for great prizes. You need not be present to win. Winners will be notified by mail and will be posted within two weeks after the drawing on the Montana Shares website.

There are 33 fabulous prizes, including 14 prize packages this year (each prize package is worth $200-$300)! Raffle tickets are $10 per ticket, 3 tickets for $25, 6 tickets for $40, or 18 tickets for $100.

Money collected from the raffle helps Montana Shares’ program budget, which in turn, helps them support members with the ongoing work to invest in Montana’s human, animal, cultural and natural resources. Click on the images below for a list of prizes and printable raffle tickets. To enter the raffle, print and complete the number of tickets you’d like to purchase and mail them along with payment to:

Montana Shares
PO Box 833
Helena, MT 59624

Image link to PDF list of raffle prizes
Link to printable link to sheet of 18 tickets

State’s Appendix K Waiver Request Approved

By |2020-05-21T08:23:18-06:00May 21st, 2020|Uncategorized|

In response to the Covid-19 emergency, MT DPHHS has submitted a series of amendments to Montana’s Medicaid waivers to help lessen the impact of the situation upon providers and those who receive their services. The most recent of these was an Appendix K request which included various requests for alterations to the way that Medicaid waiver services are provided. This included all three disability waivers in our system: the Big Sky Home and Community Based Waiver (“Big Sky”), the Montana Behavioral Health Severe Disabling Mental Illness Home and Community Based Waiver (“SDMI”) and the Montana Home and Community Based Waiver for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities (“0208″). We were given the opportunity to comment on the wavier application prior to submittal, and many of our recommendations were adopted.

The federal government approved the request on April 30, 2020. Significant changes are as follows:

  • Waives prior authorization limits on the following services:
    • 0208 waiver – respite;
    • Big Sky waiver – companion, respite, personal assistance services and non-medical transportation;
    • SDMI waiver – homemaker chore services
  • Permits the following services to be delivered in a participant’s home environment or alternative provider or community setting:
    • 0208 waiver – day supports and activities, retirement services, supported employment-follow along support and individual employment support, personal care, companion, personal supports, homemaker, residential habilitation;
    • Big Sky waiver – adult day health, day habilitation, supported living; and
    • SDMI waiver – adult day health services.

It also allows services to be provided in these additional settings: the private home of the participant or a family member of the participant; a provider owned or controlled or extended family home; the private home of a direct care provider; community center or designated community gathering center; hotel/paid lodging; newly rented room; other residential setting; or telework settings.

  • Approves reimbursing “legally responsible persons” as caregivers for services that already allow a relative or legal guardian to provide. These are:
    • 0208 – day supports and activities, homemaker, residential habilitation, respite, companion services, personal care, personal supports, retirement services, specialized child care for medically fragile children, supported employment-follow along support, supported employment- co-worker support, supported employment- individual employment support, supported employment- small group employment;
    • Big Sky – day habilitation;
    • SDMI – personal assistant attendant, specially trained attendant.
  • Expands provider pool by allowing any enrolled waiver provider to work in all three waivers.
  • Temporarily extends deadlines for all training requirements for 60 days from the original due date.  However, all direct care staff should continue to receive training on the participant’s plan of care for whom they are providing support. Training on the plan of care must consist of basic health and safety support needs for that individual. Providers must continue to ensure that direct care staff are able to demonstrate competency in the skills and techniques necessary to perform their assigned tasks under the participant’s plan of care.
  • Expands provider types for specialized equipment and supplies to purchase items from nontraditional vendors who have necessary items in stock when supply or cost impacts occur due to COVID 19 on a case by case basis.
  • Suspends periodic licensing and quality reviews of provider agencies throughout the duration of the pandemic. Allow provider flexibility in daytime staffing levels as long as care quality is retained.
  • Temporarily modifies processes for initial level of care for waiver eligibility to allow evaluations to be conducted via telephone or other interactive electronic communication.
  • Allows for payment of services to support a participant when temporarily institutionalized in a nursing facility, swing bed, critical access hospital or acute care hospital for a COVID 19-related illness. This is for providing additional supports for communication, behavior and/or extensive personal supports and such services that are not covered in such settings:
    • 0208 – residential habilitation, day supports and activities, retirement services, personal supports, companion, adult foster;
    • SDMI – specially trained attendant, life coach.
  • Adds or increases retainer payments for providers of services identified as habilitation services that include a component of personal care and/or personal care. Retainer payments shall be available when the participant is hospitalized or otherwise unavailable to participate in habilitative services for the duration of COVID 19 related absences. The retainer time limit will not exceed the lesser of 30 consecutive days or the number of days for which the state authorizes a payment for “bed hold” in nursing facilities. The services included are:
    • 0208 waiver – assisted living, companion services, day supports and activities, personal care services, residential habilitation, retirement services, supported employment follow along support, supported employment individual employment support, supported employment-small group employment;
    • Big Sky waiver – residential habilitation, post-acute rehabilitation services, supported living, adult day health, day habilitation, personal care services, private duty nursing;
    • SDMI waiver – residential habilitation, personal care services, specially trained attendant, private duty nursing.

COVID-19: A Letter From DRM’s Executive Director

By |2020-05-05T11:21:11-06:00April 3rd, 2020|Uncategorized|

Dear Friends,

The COVID-19 is affecting all of us. This invisible virus is sweeping across Montana, our country and the world and is disrupting our lives and daily routines. We are all being asked to do our part to “flatten the curve” and practice “social distancing”.

The virus does not discriminate. That being said, policies and practices that are implemented, though intended for the greater good, can be unintentionally discriminatory having negative and disproportionate impacts on people with disabilities. Disability Rights Montana staff is working with and monitoring city, county, and state officials as policies and practices are implemented.

This week we sent a letter to Governor Bullock itemizing steps we believe are necessary to protect Montanans with disabilities. We highlighted discrimination in the delivery and access to medical services, quarantine capacity for people who live in congregate living settings, capacity to provide in-home services, halting termination or redetermination of Medicaid eligibility, flexibility for providers who deliver in-home and day program services, support and expansion of mental health services, and the monitoring of institutionalized settings. We are gratified in knowing that some of our recommendations are being implemented and that others are being considered.

In an effort to support Chief Justice McGrath’s letters to courts of limited jurisdiction encouraging the release of nonviolent offenders, we filed a petition to the supreme court requesting the release of prisoners with disabilities who will be at great risk if this pandemic breaks out in the prison. We are very mindful of community safety and request the release of prisoners with disabilities be handled through the appointment of a special master. The Supreme Court granted our petition and has ordered the parties to full brief the issue.

Many people with disabilities already live in social isolation and now with the outbreak of this pandemic disease we are being asked/required to “social distance” even more. The social distancing requirements add unintentional burden on people with disabilities. We are asking you to be mindful of your neighbors and friends with disabilities who may need a helping hand during this time. Call them and check in. If you suspect unintentional or intentional discrimination, call DRM and report it to us.

Although our office is physically closed, DRM staff are working and available to answer questions and provide information.

We encourage you to call our office and leave a detailed voice message and phone number or email address where we can contact you. Please note that return calls may be made from blocked numbers since staff are working remotely.

DRM will continue to stay in touch with you as we monitor the situation. In the meantime, may you and your loved ones remain healthy and safe. We will get through this together.

Sincerely,

Bernadette Franks-Ongoy

COVID-19 News: Emergency petition filed today

By |2020-04-13T14:06:58-06:00April 1st, 2020|Uncategorized|

Today we filed an emergency petition with ACLU of Montana to ask the Montana Supreme Court to protect prisoners with disabilities by reducing the number of people who are now in or who will enter Montana’s jails and prisons. The ACLU of Montana, together with the Beck, Amsden and Stalpes law firm filed the petition on behalf of Disability Rights Montana.

The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is spreading exponentially across the country and the state. According to the petition, the Montana Supreme Court has the power to immediately reduce the number of incarcerated people in Montana in these extraordinary circumstances. Doing so would mitigate the mortal harm to incarcerated people with disabilities while also protecting other incarcerated people from undue harm, public health, and public safety.

According to public health experts, the two most important ways to prevent the spread of the highly-fatal COVID-19 are social distancing and frequent handwashing. For people in Montana’s prisons and jails, complying with those methods is virtually impossible. An estimated 32 percent of prisoners and 40 percent of those in jail report having at least one disability. These disabilities make them particularly susceptible to COVID-19. Further, when the outbreak reaches Montana correctional facilities, it is likely that care rationing programs that discriminate against prisoners with disabilities will be implemented, such as has already occurred in Washington State.

Also at higher risk of infection are the medical and correctional staff who come and go between correction facilities and their homes, potentially spilling the outbreak into communities across the state.

“With a virus this contagious and this lethal, the state has an obligation to act immediately,” said Bernadette Franks-Ongoy, executive director of Disability Rights Montana. “Without swift action, the ripple effect of an outbreak in correctional facilities will endanger everyone, hitting people with disabilities especially hard. Reducing the number of people in prisons and jails is consistent with the recommendations of public health experts and will save lives.”

The petition argues that subjecting non-dangerous prisoners with disabilities to the inevitable outbreak of COVID-19 amounts to deliberate indifference to prisoners’ health and safety and also violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as the Montana Constitution.

The petition asks the Montana Supreme Court to reduce the number of people currently in custody — by reducing both those detained before trial  (currently about 60 percent of Montana’s jail population) and those already sentenced — and by taking fewer people into custody in the first place.

As of March 31, Montana had 198 confirmed COVID-19 cases, two of which are correctional officers at the Yellowstone County Detention Center. According to the petition, many of Montana’s prisons and jails are overcrowded, making it virtually impossible to control the inevitable spread of the virus in those facilities without reducing the number of incarcerated people.

“We’ve long been concerned about Montana’s overcrowded correctional facilities,” said Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of the ACLU of Montana. “This public health emergency serves as an important reminder about the dangers of overpopulated prisons and jails. If the state doesn’t act now to reduce incarceration levels, lives will be lost.”

The Montana Supreme Court has already recognized the threat of COVID-19 and issued a number of orders designed to slow the spread of the disease. Furthermore, Chief Justice McGrath has noted that it is “only a matter of time” before the virus spreads in Montana’s correctional facilities.

States across the country are taking similar steps to slow the spread of COVID-19. At least fifteen state and local court systems have already taken steps to limit incarceration during this crisis.

This petition to the Montana Supreme Court follows a letter that, the ACLU of Montana, Disability Rights Montana and other organizations sent to Governor Bullock, the Montana Department of Corrections, and other stakeholders across the state, imploring them to reduce the population of incarcerated individuals. While the state and some counties have made some changes, those efforts are simply inadequate to address the inevitable spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails across the state.

“This is a dire emergency,” said Justin Stalpes, attorney at Beck, Amsden and Stalpes. “The response cannot be patchwork – the only thing that will stop, or at least slow, the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in correctional facilities and communities is a swift and uniform state-wide response. Lives are at stake – we cannot afford to wait another minute.”

READ THE FULL PETITION

COVID-19: Protecting our staff, clients, and community

By |2020-05-06T08:55:21-06:00March 16th, 2020|Uncategorized|

Disability Rights Montana is closely monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19) developments and following the recommendations published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). Information is rapidly evolving, and we are working quickly to identify how we can support our staff, their families, our clients and our community.

Given the seriousness of the situation, we created the following health and safety guidelines to support and protect our staff and clients. These guidelines will be in place for the foreseeable future, but we will reassess as new information emerges.

Please know we are equally committed during this time to continuing our services to protect and advocate for people with disabilities.

Starting March 16, 2020 until further notice:

  1. Our office is closed to outside visitors indefinitely. Our phone lines will remain open during regular business hours. Please understand that we may return calls from blocked numbers, as some of our staff may be working from home.
  2. If you are a Montana resident and are seeking assistance from our office, please contact us by phone at 1-800-245-4743 or complete and submit the Request for Services Form. We will do our best to respond in a timely manner. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we navigate these unprecedented circumstances.
  3. All in-person meetings will either be rescheduled or held by phone or video conference. We believe this is the most responsible action we can take to safeguard the health and safety of our staff while protecting the wider community.
  4. All non-essential staff travel is suspended.
  5. All staff speaking engagements and exhibiting events are cancelled.We would be glad to send our brochures upon request. Email: Advocate@DisabilityRightsMT.org.
  6. All meetings scheduled to take place in DRM’s conference rooms are cancelled and DRM’s conference rooms will not be available for use until further notice.

For more information about the coronavirus pandemic, we recommend following the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (MT DPHHS), and your county public health department for news about your local area.

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