Systemic Problems Guaranteed to Get Worse in 2017 As Montana Democrats Double-Down on Failure

by William Skink

The electronic keyboard I’ve been using to make music came to me because its previous user committed suicide. The owner of the keyboard had been trying to help this individual, but after several stints at the Providence Center, the next step was a trip to Warm Springs. Instead of taking that trip, the young man chose death.

The Missoula Indy published a feature piece on litigation against Warm Springs last week and it’s worth reading. What the state of Montana will spend defending this institution would probably be enough to fund several sorely needed staff positions at Warm Springs. Instead of smart money well spent, though, the state will expend tens of thousands of dollars to squash this law suit.

The problem with Warm Springs is much bigger than one institution. While many of the problems are well known–like staff shortages, a lack of training and pathetic wages for what the job demands–some of the other dynamics fueling inhumane treatment are less known.

One example related to me by a former colleague is indicative of this larger problem. He got a call from an unnamed person from the state prison inquiring about whether a sex offender being discharged could access shelter services in Missoula. When told no, this person stated the offender was coming to Missoula regardless.

Where did this sex offender discharged into homeless from prison and sent to Missoula end up? Yep, Warm Springs.

It’s not just undesirables with nasty criminal records inappropriately being sent to Warm Springs. Dementia patients who get 86’d from nursing homes also have a tendency to end up in Warm Springs. From the article:

Few of the issues raised in the Disability Rights Montana suit surprise Matt Kuntz, executive director of Helena-based National Alliance on Mental Illness Montana, a nonprofit that likewise advocates for Montanans with mental illness. He gives kudos to Disability Rights Montana for its work, but is also realistic about the challenges faced by public mental health institutions. Besides caring for people with severe addictions and mental disorders, Montana State Hospital is expected to take on forensic patients—those convicted of crimes—as well as dementia patients.

“You can’t really look at this without thinking about overcrowding and how institutions are being challenged, both by trying to care for a larger forensic population, and also trying to serve clients with Alzheimer’s and dementia that were never meant to be served at Montana State Hospital,” Kuntz says.

He’s also careful to note that the quality of care at public and private facilities is affected when staff is underpaid and undertrained.

“The underpayment of line staff, at Montana state institutions but also in our communities, is a reality,” Kuntz says. “There have been numerous attempts by both the unions or the private healthcare providers to get raises over the years, and there’ve been varying levels of success … I do believe it’s not just an issue at Montana State Hospital, it’s an issue across our system.”

We are at this point of systemic crisis thanks in large part to a monumental failure of political leadership, and it’s going to get worse because our political leaders have other priorities.

While one of our State Representatives is preparing to waste our tax money with her Democratic Sour Grapes Crusade to destroy the electoral college, the city of Missoula is currently scheming with its lobbyist how to get more taxes:

The city also has aligned with the League of Cities and Towns in a request for a local option tax. While it remains a “hot-button issue,” Engen views it as a tool that could fund infrastructure projects while providing property tax relief.

“It’s something we’ve talked with the Legislature about session after session now,” he said. “We want to create an evidence-based, compelling case for this.”

As the city of Missoula embarks on a new long-range transportation plan, city leaders have also broached the idea of an increase in fuel taxes. The effort hasn’t seen any progress on that local front, though it’s likely to come up in the Legislature.

The Montana Infrastructure Coalition is pushing for a fuel tax increase, and the city of Missoula is backing the proposal. Engen and others see it as a way to capture visitor spending and invest it back into local infrastructure.

If that wasn’t enough, also of concern to our city leaders is how to defend the idiocy of Missoula’s policy decisions, like passing the gun ordinance. As I have been saying, taking up finite political bandwidth to push a mostly symbolic city ordinance will overshadow whatever feel-good glow the anti-gun crowd gets from picking a state fight with the rest of Montana. From the link:

Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, also cautioned the city against several proposals she believes are intended to scold Missoula for its progressive stance on several social fronts, including transgender equality, refugees and background checks on guns sales and purchases.

“One (bill) that affects all of you is the issue of the power of local government to make decisions the state doesn’t like,” said Sands. “We’ll see this again. We’ll have another bathroom bill. It’s essentially slapping the Missoula City Council for the policies you’ve taken. But we’ll continue to fight that.”

While you continue these fights, Missoula Democrats, there are front-line staff of a local non-profit who recently had to clean brain matter off a bathroom wall. I should add it was a gender-neutral, single occupancy bathroom, since those are the kind of issues you care so deeply about.

Meanwhile, after spending $40,000 dollars to study the jail overcrowding crisis, the criminal justice system is going to be getting worse.

Last month, 2 leaders resigned from the Public Defender’s Office in Missoula because they couldn’t make headway in addressing the budget shortfall:

“I face palpable resistance daily from some program managers as well as many OPD Public Defenders who believe that mitigation equates to a cessation of services for indigent clients and thus resist any effort to address the shortfall,” Cruse wrote.

He called the process of dealing with the budget shortfall through the Public Defender Commission “slow” and “ineffective.”

“I have observed a business as usual attitude, stalling and outright defiance toward any effort to save money by some program managers.”

If budget constraints weren’t bad enough already, the recent “citizen” initiative known as Marsy’s Law, according to the Missoula Indy, means money:

Prior to passage, the Marsy’s Law campaign claimed that any costs associated with implementing the amendment would be minimal. Campaign Director Chuck Denowh said there would be no need for prosecutors to hire additional staff. But as Nugent reads the law, every city and county attorney’s office in the state will be required to identify and notify the victims of thousands of misdemeanor cases each year, in addition to their existing responsibility to victims of felony and violent offenses. He’s unsure how many additional city staffers might be needed to comply.

“Ironically, this is going to create delays in the system with respect to things we were getting processed routinely,” Nugent says.

Nugent doubts that Walmart will want to be involved in the details of individual shoplifting cases unless there’s restitution involved. He’s hopeful that the state will allow such victims to sign a waiver opting out of the new law’s notifications.

Missoula County is a step ahead of the city. On Nov. 23, the Board of County Commissioners approved a $65,000 budget amendment to bring on two new county attorney staffers by January. Chief Deputy County Attorney Jason Marks says that the annual expense of misdemeanor notifications will top $100,000 going forward.

Like some of the reporting coming out now about Trump’s business dealings, this assessment by Nugent is conveniently too late to stop the legal requirement to implement this system-clogging, money-sucking law. Thanks for nothing, Nugent.

Bleak, I know, but maybe there’s a silver lining: with every desperate person who chooses to kill themselves because they’ve lost hope and the will to live, more room is created for refugees, coastal transplants and illegal immigrants looking for sanctuary from the hell America’s Neoliberals have helped create south of the border.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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1 Response to Systemic Problems Guaranteed to Get Worse in 2017 As Montana Democrats Double-Down on Failure

  1. steve kelly says:

    So screwed up! Our national priorities are well known. States follow the money. Not much left over with “Defense” budget pushing one trillion/year.

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