A handful of Democratic lawmakers are calling on Montana State Hospital to reapply for federal accreditation, a move they say would improve care and clarify the state’s intentions with the psychiatric hospital.
Monday’s letter, addressed to Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Charlie Brereton, cites a Montana Free Press article from July in which former director Adam Meier and Brereton obscure their plans to restore federal funding. of Medicaid and Medicare at Warm Springs Hospital. — the only psychiatric hospital in the state.
“We are writing to express our deep concern over your lack of commitment to recoup millions of dollars in federal funding for MSH, and urge you to immediately and publicly commit to pursuing CMS accreditation as soon as possible,” reads- we in the letter.
As of August 15, the hospital was serving 218 patients, according to DPHHS.
The hospital lost $7 million in federal funding in early April after an investigation by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid found an inability to prevent deaths, COVID-19 outbreaks and falls in the facility. The loss of funding was compounded by the fact that the hospital was already over budget by $7 million in March, largely due to its reliance on more expensive contract workers rather than full-time staff. The hospital’s total budget for fiscal year 2022 is $48.8 million.
Most notably, according to Montana Free Press reports, the hospital is losing $70 million in Medicaid reimbursements over the next five years by not seeking reaccreditation. And lawmakers said the state needed those dollars.
“Federal funds could not only help ensure that MSH is fully funded to a sufficient level to keep the facility running smoothly, but could also free up funds from the state’s general fund to invest in the continuum of care. mental health, strengthening community care. in addition to MSH,” the letter read.
Jon Ebelt, spokesman for DPHHS, said the agency is reviewing the letter.
Earlier this year, DPHHS hired New York-based consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal on a $2.2 million contract to survey all public hospitals, including Montana State Hospital.
A July report card from the company revealed “significant deficiencies” at the hospital and showed the hospital was $17 million over budget for fiscal year 2022.
While Monday’s letter expressed concerns about the financial impacts, it also raised concerns about the quality of care at the hospital.
“Beyond the financial implications, pursuing reaccreditation is an important step in demonstrating to patients, staff and the community at large that the state is committed to righting the grave wrongs that led MSH to lose its accreditation, for starters,” the letter said.
The five lawmakers to sign the letter were Sen. Jessica Wicks, D-Anaconda; Rep. Sara Novak, D- Anaconda; Senator Mary McNally, D-Billings; Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena and Senator Jen Gross, D-Billings.
On Tuesday, Novak, who represents the hospital district, said she wanted more clarity from the state about her plans for the hospital.
“I think it’s important that they move towards recertification and being able to access Medicaid funding and show that they’re improving the status of the hospital,” she said.
She added that the federal certification lockout would indicate that the state is trying to make improvements at the hospital.
“I just think it’s important if you want to comply with federal regulations and provide safe facilities. I think it’s important, and if you want to wash your hands with it, what does that say about their intention to provide a safe environment? ” she says.
Bernie Franks-Ongoy, director of Disability Rights Montana, a nonprofit that advocates for Montana’s disabled population, agreed with Novak and said securing federal funding would add an extra layer of oversight to the hospital.
“I think it’s really important… what comes with accreditation is some quality of services, and that also comes with money, so why is the state saying they don’t consider more necessarily accreditation? she asked.
By not ensuring the hospital meets federal standards, Franks-Ongoy said patients could lose access to quality care — and she said “the state should be prepared to put in the effort. for quality of care in accordance with CMS standards. ”
The Interim Children, Family, Health and Human Services Committee meets Friday and is expected to receive an update from DPHHS and Alvarez and Marsal on the state hospital.
Caferro, who sits on the committee, said she wants the state to be more transparent with the committee and expressed concerns about Warm Springs patients in the absence of CMS funding.
“I’m so worried about the patients; it’s inconceivable that they didn’t pursue reaccreditation…they got in trouble for a reason; patients have died. When I heard they weren’t actively pursuing reaccreditation, I was shocked,” she said.