Montana Editorial Roundup
Billings Gazette, July 10, on why Montana needs more child protection workers:
Yellowstone County has about 880 children in foster care because of abuse or neglect in their own homes. Statewide, nearly 4,000 children newborn through age 17 are in the foster care system.
Those numbers reveal why Yellowstone County child protection workers have been especially overloaded in a state that has seen substantiated reports of child abuse and neglect more than double in the past five years.
The Division of Child and Family Services Child protection office in Livingston is closing and the staff members are being transferred — one to Bozeman and five to Billings. The Livingston office is serving about 24 children in foster care in Park and Sweet Grass counties with caseworkers responsible for 11 children on average, according to Department of Public Health and Human Services spokesman Jon Ebelt.
In Billings, according to Ebelt, each caseworker is responsible for 60 children on average. Caseloads at times have been much higher than 60 during the past two years as the Billings office lost social workers to burnout and better paying, less stressful jobs. The depleted staff kept working, doing the best they could with too few workers for so many children.
“In Billings, caseloads are four times higher than in other areas of the state,” Ebelt told Gazette reporter Matt Hoffman. “We are committed to ensuring the Livingston area has appropriate coverage and continued staffing as we ensure that other areas with higher caseloads have adequate resources as well.”
We aren’t happy that the Livingston office will close. That is likely to mean more travel time for foster children, foster parents and birth parents for visits, meetings and services that will help these kids reunite safely with parents or get other safe, permanent homes.
It’s an outrage that Montana’s budget cuts have placed our most needy and vulnerable children at the back of the line. Neither DPHHS nor the legislature have championed what children need. Instead, they are trying to make do with a budget that is based on serving half as many kids as are in the system today.
We call on DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan to speak up clearly and publicly about staff shortages and turnover that results in poor communications and unnecessary delays in getting kids out of the system.
Since the 2017 Legislature adjourned, vacancies have not been filled quickly and budget cuts nixed computer system upgrades that would help these crucial professionals do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. CPS relies on a slow, obsolete computer system.
In 2013, a bill to start the process of bringing Montana’s children protection system up to national standards of the Council on Accreditation died in House committee. Instead, the legislature cut the budget, costing the Division of Child and Family Services 27 positions.
The Council on Accreditation’s website says that a manageable workload “makes it possible for workers to meet practice requirements; does not impede the achievement of outcomes; and takes into consideration the qualifications and competencies of the worker and case status and complexity.”
“Generally, investigative workers should manage no more than 12 active investigations at a time including no more than 8 new investigations per month. Ongoing and preventive services workers should be working with no more than 15-18 families (cases) at a time, with no more than 10 children that are in an out-of-home placement,” according to the Council on Accreditation.
As Gov. Steve Bullock prepares his executive budget proposal for the 2019-2020 biennium, he should include a request for the staffing needed to move toward national standards.
We call on legislators in Park, Sweet Grass, and Yellowstone counties to unite to advocate for the good of all Montana children. The closure of the Livingston office is a symptom of a much bigger problem that Hogan, Bullock and the 2019 Legislature must resolve.
Daily Inter Lake, July 8, on Kalispell’s hospital needing transparency:
It was just two weeks ago when the Inter Lake published an editorial calling for greater financial transparency at Kalispell Regional Healthcare.
That conclusion followed revelations that the hospital complex had reported a $32 million deficit in operating expenses for fiscal year 2017. Most of that huge number — $21.5 million — was to account for an anticipated settlement regarding an investigation into how the hospital compensated its top physicians and surgeons.
We were willing to give the hospital the benefit of the doubt at the time, but since then, we have seen the detailed whistleblower lawsuit filed by Jon Mohatt against the hospital for systematically violating federal anti-kickback statutes since at least 2011. The suit by Mohatt, chief financial officer for the hospital’s physician network, was originally filed under seal, but is now public.
If Mohatt’s allegations are true, there is no telling how much damage this scheme could have done to the hospital and the community it serves.
Again, we will wait for the legal resolution to be arrived at in court before we make any final determinations, but we are more convinced than ever that the hospital’s board of directors must adopt a new and open policy for its board meetings that treats the public as a partner and not an enemy.
To quote our earlier editorial:
“Information about OUR hospital should be shared with ‘we the public’ readily and regularly.
“Such a policy will put an end to dangerous rumors, and can only help to keep the public on the side of this vital community partner.”
What we have learned in the last week just makes the need for a change in direction even more obvious. Transparency now is not just a suggestion; it is a necessity. This nonprofit hospital not only has our community’s health in its care; it also has millions of dollars of our community’s money — both private and federal — passing through its bank accounts.
If the hospital’s board conducted its business publicly, and the community had a seat at the table, then there would be virtually no chance that the hospital would today stand accused of violating federal law.
It’s time for a change.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle, July 8, on diversity of youth benefiting regents:
Pub trivia players like to say age diversity is the key to winning. Have a team member born in every decade and you have it all covered. Each member brings the cultural knowledge of a different era. Whether it’s ’70s TV shows or ’90s rap music, someone will have the right answer.
And that’s why Gov. Steve Bullock’s choice to fill a vacancy on the state Board of Regents is a winner.
Brianne Rogers Dugan, a 34-year-old Bozeman native, was given the nod by Bullock. Dugan will fill out the term of Bill Johnstone, a 72-year-old former D.A. Davidson CEO who resigned last spring for personal reasons. And she will need state Senate confirmation when the Legislature meets. But, other than the student regent who serves on the board, Dugan should become the youngest member of the seven-member board by quite a bit. As such, she will bring a generational diversity that should benefit the University System greatly.
As a bona fide member of the millennial generation, Dugan will bring a new and needed perspective to the board. Her own higher education experience is still fresh in her mind. And her youth will enable her to relate to today’s college students more easily than other regents.
Let’s face it. Civic board appointments and political candidacies tend to go to those with a wealth and variety of experience. But that tends to limit the field to those well into middle age and beyond. The average age of members of the U.S. Congress, for example is 57. That tends to leave underrepresented many of the interests and needs of the overall national population, the median age of which is 37.8.
To be sure, the life experience members of the silver-haired generation bring to their positions can be valuable. But their age can also put them a little out of touch with their constituencies.
Bullock is commended for choosing a nontraditional appointee to the board. And Dugan is congratulated on her appointment and wished the best in her tenure as a regent.