March 2020 Newsletter

  • Disability Rights Montana to Appear in MT Department of Justice v. DPHHS

  • Featured Client - Devin McLane

  • Committee Hears About Loss of Services Under Big Sky Waiver

  • Carroll College Remains Inaccessible

  • DRM Welcomes New Staff

Disability Rights Montana
Board of Directors:

Theresa Baldry
Donna Gleaves
Tami Hoar
Mike Mahoney
Dave Richards
Maryanne Silve
Will Warberg
Kathie Waters

Disability Rights Montana to Appear in MT Department of Justice v. DPHHS

In October, the Montana Attorney General’s Office filed a declaratory judgment action in Montana’s First Judicial District Court asking the Court to decide whether the office can disclose reports of the Child and Family Ombudsman to the public. These reports are the written conclusions of the Ombudsman’s office, which investigates complaints received by the public about the conduct of employees of the Child and Family Services Division. The Ombudsman’s reports do not include identifying information about any individual involved in the process.

The Attorney General’s Office also asked the court to clarify that Disability Rights Montana can receive these reports. Disability Rights Montana’s authority to receive these reports is provided in federal law and that federal law is incorporated by reference into the state child abuse law.

 The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has opposed this action, arguing that neither the public nor Disability Rights Montana should be able to receive the information as it believes it is protected by the Montana Constitutional Right to Privacy.

Given our federal authority to receive these reports, we believe there is no legitimate basis to challenge our organization’s access to the reports. Additionally, we believe that these reports, which do not contain identifying information, are public documents pursuant to the Montana Constitutional Right to Know. The reports we have reviewed contain important information about the Child and Families Services Division and how it conducts its work. We believe it is important for the public, legislators and other policy makers to understand the identified issues in this system so it can play a role in improving and reforming this important division of MT DPHHS. Disability Rights Montana will be participating as an amicus curiae or "friend of the court" in this case.


Featured Client - Devin McLane

We are pleased to introduce you to a terrific client, Devin McLane, who stood up to the Big Sky Waiver program in the MT DPHHS Senior and Long Term Care Division. He is 15, and is active in his school and in sports. Devin has arthrogryposis, also called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), which is a term used to describe a variety of conditions involving limited range of movement or stiffness in the limbs.

Devin can’t use his hands for daily tasks like cooking, so he has learned to use his feet. Walking long distances is hard for him, so he relies on an electric wheelchair at school and a manual wheelchair in his home to access the community.

Devin received Big Sky Waiver (BSW) services for two years. In August 2019, he received a letter terminating his services in 10 days, without having received any warning beforehand. No reason was provided in the termination letter. This denial meant that they could not get a power seat elevator for his wheelchair, which would cost hundreds of dollars, and massage therapy recommended by his physician. Devin’s mother, Michelle, worked diligently to have BSW services reinstated, without success. During the time she was trying to get services reinstated, Devin had to use his mouth for more tasks as he didn’t have the wheelchair he needed. This did not work well, and he was injuring his mouth while doing various tasks. They contacted our office and we helped them appeal the decision and make their case during the Administrative Review, which is the last step before a hearing. Shortly after the Administrative Review, Devin’s BSW services were reinstated.

Devin and his mother are terrific advocates for individuals with disabilities and we are thrilled to have been able to help get the services that Devin needs.


Committee Hears About Loss of Services Under Big Sky Waiver

On January 16, the Children, Families, Health and Human Services Committee continued its study of the Senior and Long Term Care Division of MT DPHHS. During this meeting, they heard from a panel of individuals who had received services under the Big Sky Waiver. This waiver serves people with substantial physical disabilities of all ages. 

During the panel and in public comment, the Committee heard about the many changes that the Division has implemented – most without any notice to those served and without actually amending administrative rules. Although the Department had been asked by the Committee multiple times to explain the changes they had made and which of these changes were required by federal law as enforced by the Center for Medicaid and Medicare, very little explanation was provided. The only documents provided looked like tables of contents, which had already been sent to staff notifying them to update their policy manuals. Little if any explanation of the substance or reason for the changes were in these documents, nor did they include the reason that the Division changed the policy.

Members of the public, including Devin McLane’s mother, Michelle (featured above), talked about the termination of Devin’s services and how confusing the changes in policy have been. The Department’s termination of Devin’s services was strange, as he had been on the waiver prior to this denial, he was not given an explanation, and not long after this hearing, he was placed back into waiver services. The Committee was very interested in what he had to say. Other powerful testimony came from Robin Homan, a former Program Manager for the Big Sky waiver program, who testified about the many changes to policy which have had negative effects on people:

  • more difficult to get initial Medicaid eligibility to apply for waiver services;
  • some waiver services such as personal assistance and transportation have been capped;
  • approval for many waiver services has become onerous and denials are frequent, especially for specialized equipment or environmental modifications;
  • case managers have been instructed not to contact the Office of Public Assistance on behalf of consumers, which leaves them without help in this complex and often hard to understand system;
  • additional prior authorization requirement to approval of children for the waiver which often leads to denial;
  • denial of services based upon assumption that disability services are responsibility of the parents, regardless of the complexity of the task; and
  • services denied as they, alone, do not avoid institutionalization. These services used to be looked at as a package which together avoid institutional placements. Few services or pieces of equipment, in isolation, could ensure someone did not have to seek institutional care.

The next meeting will be held on March 19 and 20, and will include a work session as to how to address these issues in the Senior and Long Term Care Division.   


Carroll College Remains Inaccessible

Almost 50 years after the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Catholic College has failed to prioritize accessibility despite the struggles that people with disabilities face on the campus. Students, alum, former faculty, and community members have come together to tell their stories regarding the inaccessibility of the College. We will be sharing these stories on our website. A new story will be available each day during the week of March 9, 2020. Please check them out to learn about the experience of people with disabilities at Carroll College. 


Welcome to DRM!

Advocacy Specialist - Andrea McDonald

Andrea is an Advocacy Specialist in the Abuse & Neglect Unit where she works to protect people with disabilities from abuse, neglect, and civil rights violations.  Andrea graduated from Carroll College with a Bachelors in Biology and is currently working on Masters Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling through Utah State University.  Prior to working at DRM Andrea was a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for the State of Montana and then worked as an Adult Case Manager for Career Training Institute helping people with barriers to employment find work. 

When not at work Andrea enjoys spending time with her family doing outdoor activities such as skiing, hiking, and kayaking. 


Executive/Legal Assistant - Jason Socci

As an Executive Assistant, Jason provides administrative support to DRM’s executive director. Jason moved from Utah to Helena in August 2019. While in Utah, he studied philosophy at the University of Utah and worked as an executive secretary in the School of Biological Sciences. He spends his downtime exploring the Montana wilderness.


Upcoming Events


Protection & Advocacy Service Training

We are more than happy to provide training and workshops to others. We welcome nonprofits, clients, workplaces, and more, to reach out to us if you would like for us to present about our services, and how we can provide assistance. Call 406-449-2344 or email


"Advocating for justice is our individual and collective responsibility."

Executive Director,
Disability Rights Montana
Bernie Franks-Ongoy


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Disability Rights Montana protects and advocates for the human, legal, and civil rights of Montanans with disabilities while advancing dignity, equality, and self-determination.

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Disability Rights Montana
1022 Chestnut Street  | Helena, Montana 59601
406-449-2344 |

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