HELENA — Earlier this month, Intermountain confirmed it was temporarily closing its residential program in Helena, which provides long-term behavioral health services to children ages four to 13. On Monday, Intermountain staff held a public demonstration, asking the community to stand by them, as the organization’s directors said they remain committed to the program and their clinical model.
Monday evening, dozens of people gathered on the street corner in front of the Montana State Capitol, holding signs asking those driving by to “Stand With Staff” and “Honk for Kids.”
“We are looking for being able to continue Intermountain treatment the way Intermountain does it,” said Katie Smith, who works as a case manager for Intermountain, and previously provided home support services.
Those in attendance for the “Hope for Intermountain” event included current and former employees, as well as many who’ve been served by Intermountain programs.
Amy Chartier says her daughter Kaylee went through the residential program about five years ago, and is now in a much better place.
“They made me feel like I was part of a family, and not just some other kid that was just there,” Kaylee said Monday.
Amy Chartier said Intermountain Residential is an outlet Montana can’t afford to lose.
“I am really heartbroken that the talks are even there to shut this place down, because it offers such a good atmosphere and opportunity for families that are struggling or kids that are struggling to be part of a family,” she said. “It offered our family the opportunity to work through some serious issues.”
Currently, 16 children in the residential program are set to be discharged later this month. Intermountain leaders say they are working to find solutions for those kids and their families.
However, many people say there’s simply no comparable alternative for what Intermountain does – and certainly not in Montana.
“What the community needs to know is that the losing of Intermountain Residential is going to not only impact the state, but is also going to impact every family member that has been helped or that needs to be helped in the Montana community,” said Billi Steber, who currently has a child in an Intermountain outpatient program and previously fostered a child who went through the residential program.
On Monday, Intermountain’s board of directors released to MTN a resolution they adopted earlier in the day. It said “the current Residential Leadership Team, the leadership backbone of the program, have self- directed the closure of the two remaining cottages,” and that “this closure decision opposes the standing directives of the Intermountain Board of Directors and violates the core values of our organization.”
“Therefore, be it resolved that the Intermountain Board of Directors: Reasserts its commitment to reopen, and enhance the residential program we are known for, aligning with our mission to deliver outstanding care and support to our community with fidelity to the Developmental Relational clinical model we have been known for,” the document continued.
The resolution goes on to say the board “stands united with the employees expressing their concerns” and vows to address them, and it condemns what it calls “language either written or in person that is inflammatory, intimidating, hostile, incorrect, misleading, or designed to inflame emotions with parents, children, staff or community stakeholders.”
Erin Benedict, chief communications officer for Intermountain, said the board also directed staff to prepare a plan, including a strategic plan and an approximate reopening date – due in 30 days.
“I think it's wonderful that so many people turned out today to show their support for Intermountain and our staff and the kids that we serve,” Benedict told MTN Monday. “We were devastated whenever Residential told us that they had to shut the program down. But we are committed to rebuilding it.”
Despite the board’s statement, many of those attending Monday’s event said they are concerned that, when the residential program returns, there will be changes from the way it’s operated over the years.
Michael Kalous says he first came to Intermountain as a child, along with his brothers in 1965. As an adult, he returned to work there as a counselor and therapist from 2000 to 2017. During that time, he said the organization has always been centered on a single vision, and he worries they may now be going in a different direction.
“It's not about model; it's not about institution,” he said. “It's about relationships; it's about empathy, about presence – being present and looking into hearts with our heart. That's what it is, and I think that's what we're most concerned about. That's what we don't want to see changed.”
Smith said she had questions about whether the board will take staff members’ concerns seriously. Like many of the employees in attendance Monday, she wore a sticker reading “I signed,” alluding to a letter of no confidence in the board and the interim CEO that a number of staff members signed earlier this year. Smith told MTN she has given notice and will be leaving Intermountain soon.
Benedict said the board is dedicated to their current model, and that they take all staff members’ concerns into account.
“We have run an all-staff survey, and out of that, we are coming up with plans again to make it a wonderful place to work, a better place to work,” she said.
The Intermountain board’s resolution referred to the “outgoing” Residential Leadership Team when referring to plans for minimizing delay in reopening the residential program. Benedict said some members of their Residential Leadership Team have verbally indicated that they won't participate in the reopening of the program.