Health Department Says $2 Million to be Used as Incentives

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — Managers of facilities that serve mentally disabled individuals criticized the Bullock administration for limiting their annual funding increases by 2 percent Wednesday, but state health officials said the money will be used as financial incentives for the centers’ improvement.

The facility managers expressed their disapproval of the decision Wednesday at a public hearing. The $4 million was included in the state budget for such facilities and distributing $2 million of that through financial incentives was not the original intent of the Legislature, they said.

Without the additional 2 percent funding increase, the providers will be unable to upgrade facilities or give much-needed raises to employees, they said.

That reduction means a slash of $125,000 for Missoula Development Services Corps’ budget.

MDSC is one of about 70 facilities in the state that serves the needs of the mentally disabled. CEO Fran Sadowski said MDSC will have just enough to cover rising employee health care costs, but the budget cut will leave that center unable to make building improvements or offer competitive entry-level salaries. MDSC could use the extra money to purchase much needed new vehicles and hire new staff to serve the needs of their growing population, she said.

“We just keep backtracking,” Sadowski said. “We won’t be able to update anything that needs to be updated.”

Sadowski was one of the many facility officials at the hearing Wednesday to discuss the matter.

The Department of Health and Human Services Director Richard Opper said the $2 million may be used for some type of performance incentives for the facilities, but he is not sure in what manner they would measure achievement to distribute the funds.

He said DPPHS never intended to cut the money completely, nor did the department intend to give the money back to the Montana Departmental Center, a public facility in Boulder that serves high-need mentally disabled individuals.

In a memo sent to providers last week, Opper said he would consider all options in the distribution of the $2 million dollars, implying that the money may be used to cover MDC’s budgetary shortfall.

The center has been under scrutiny since an employee was convicted of sexually abusing a female patient in 2010. Though the Legislature moved to cut funding to MDC, leaving it with a $3 million budgetary shortfall, he said DPHHS will still continue to fund it.

“Some of the population can be very difficult. There really needs to be facility like this to protect themselves from harm,” Opper said.

He said he still plans to distribute the $2 million to private facilities but is not sure how they will distribute the funds.

“I think all of us scratched our heads,” Sadowski said. “What was the intent of withholding the 2 percent? I don’t think any of us know.”

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