Elinor Smith

HELENA (UM Legislative News Service) -- A bill that would require the Department of Health and Human Services to report all instances of abuse and neglect of patients in the state psychiatric hospital to the state protection and advocacy program unanimously passed in the House Friday and will now await the governor’s signature or veto. 

Sen. Jen Gross, D-Billings, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 4 but Rep. Jennifer Carlson carried it in the House. She said the bill was designed to make sure advocacy groups can step in as soon as possible to help patients through abuse and neglect allegations and investigations. 

“We learned that there was a problem, an ongoing problem, with the federally recognized agency for protection and advocacy of individuals with mental illness … not getting the required reports from the state hospital regarding abuse and neglect allegations and investigations. This is a quite simple bill. It just puts in the code that those investigations must be reported to the advocacy group within five days of an allegation, rather than waiting,” Carlson said.  

The bill would require DPHHS to report any alleged abuse or neglect to the program within five days of the incident and then give another report on their findings no less than five days after the completion of the investigation, with no information redacted by the hospital director. 

SB 4 has been unanimously unopposed since it was introduced to the Senate in January.

The state psychiatric hospital is the only publicly operated mental health facility in the state, and was founded in the 1800s. The facility has been plagued with reports of abuse and neglect and last year lost its accreditation from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The hospital has also faced staff shortages and high turnover. Just this week, the interim hospital administrator, Carter Anderson, was placed on leave and hospital officials did not provide a reason as to why. He will be replaced with David Culberson, a hospital executive from California on March 20th.