by Travis Mateer
Montana Rep. Danny Tenenbaum is bringing attention to an issue I am very familiar with through my work at the Poverello Center and Missoula Aging Services, and that’s the warehousing of people with dementia related conditions at Montana’s State hospital in Warm Springs.
This is a completely inappropriate placement for people who need memory care, but it usually only happens to poor people without strong family support, so nothing has happened at the state level to ever address this.
The fact that Danny Tenenbaum only became aware of this problem a year ago because of a case that his public defender office dealt with highlights who this is happening to and why nothing is being done to change it. Here is Tenenbaum describing the case that opened his eyes to this problem:
“For me, it was a problem I didn’t know existed until a year ago when a case came through our office,” he said. “A person was committed involuntarily to the state mental hospital, and they weren’t mentally ill. They just had Alzheimer’s.”
Tenenbaum said in the state of Montana, the law regarding involuntary commitment to the state hospital is ambiguous. The Montana State Hospital, located in Warm Springs, houses 124 patients, according to their latest census. Most of the patients are committed for schizoaffective disorders and other types of mental illnesses.
The reason this happens can be specific to the case, but a general factor is lack of health insurance/wealth to pay the exorbitant cost of memory care. Here’s more on that aspect of this problem from the link:
Tenenbaum added it’s hard to find a facility that specializes in dementia care in Montana if you don’t have good insurance. There are only two options in Montana, one in Billings and another in Helena. If you can’t afford a care center, the patient could end up at the state hospital.
According to a recent study, it costs more than $500 per day to care for a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient at the state hospital. That adds up to more than $188,000 per person per year and more than $7.5 million per year to house for 40 memory care patients.
It’s easy to TALK about helping vulnerable populations. I hear politicians TALK about these types of problems all the time, but the reality for the boots-on-the-ground workers actually DEALING with these problems never seems to substantively change.
I’m glad a State legislator is bringing attention to this, but Montana has a VERY long way to go to actually protect vulnerable populations who don’t have independently wealthy family to take care of them or place them in an appropriate facility.
This could be a good topic for a podcast interview, so stay tuned…