HELENA — In the wake of worker shortages at the Montana State Hospital and concerns raised by employees and former employees, the state is seeking a private contractor to review operations at the hospital and other state-run health facilities.
“This review will help us make informed and thoughtful decisions going forward,” said Adam Meier, director of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). “(Our agency) is committed to ensuring that all our state-operated health care facilities are effectively serving Montanans.”
The state issued a bid request on Nov. 29 and said it has up to $1 million to fund the initiative, which would hire an “executive facilities director” who would review operations at the State Hospital and other DPHHS facilities, recruit staff and come up with a long-term plan.
In addition to the State Hospital at Warm Springs, the agency operates six other facilities, including three veterans’ homes in Butte, Columbia Falls and Glendive, and centers for mentally ill, disabled or addicted patients at Lewistown, Butte and Boulder.
Sen. Mark Sweeney of Philipsburg — whose district includes the State Hospital — told MTN News this week he’s been hearing for months from employees that the hospital is mostly “warehousing” mentally ill patients and not providing adequate therapy.
Many workers, from nurses to psychiatric aides to maintenance people, are leaving their jobs because they don’t have faith in the management and no longer want to work there, he said.
State officials confirmed that the State Hospital has 60 open positions out of 523 full-time spots – but that another 136 positions full-time-equivalent positions are being filled by traveling nurses or other temporary help.
A nurse who worked on contract at Montana State Hospital for 10 months this year told MTN News that the local workforce had been “alienated” by hospital leadership, and has become disillusioned as outside help has been hired, on a contract basis, and paid much higher wages than permanent employees.
The local workforce in Anaconda and other nearby communities has been the backbone of the staff, taking care of and monitoring patients during their stay, when they weren’t undergoing direct treatment, she said.
“It’s the last place you’d want your family or friend to ever end up,” said the contract nurse, who did not want her name revealed publicly. “It is completely void of anything therapeutic. The local technicians are so discouraged because they really care about the patients.”
The State Hospital is licensed for 270 beds. State officials said on Wednesday its current census is 218 patients.
In a statement, Meier, the DPHHS director, said he is “fully aware of the concerns that have been raised and the challenges that we face,” and that’s why the state is seeking an outside firm to evaluate management of the hospital and other state-run health facilities.
The bid request for the management contract is accepting proposals through Dec. 20.
The bid-request documents say the state is seeking a contractor to provide “temporary management” of daily operations of healthcare facilities, to stabilize the workforce and provide consulting to establish a “long-term, sustainable operation plans for the facilities.”
Other state facilities run by DPHHSA, besides the veterans’ homes, are the Mental Health Nursing Care Center in Lewistown, the Montana Chemical Dependency Center in Butte and the Intensive Behavior Center in Boulder.