HELENA — Intermountain announced Friday that their Residential Program, which provides residential behavioral health services to children ages 4-13, will be temporarily closing.
The closure displaces 16 children who are receiving care at the Helena facility.
Families of patients reached out to MTN frustrated about the situation, saying they were told they had 30 days to pick up their children.
“I cried for the last day, because I don't think I'll be able to find a program anywhere in the state of Montana that can do what that program's done for my daughter,” said Shayla Morrow.
Parents told MTN they found out about the news on Thursday.
“I don't know what I'm going to do,” said Connie MacDonald. “I'm concerned about my son, and I'm concerned about the people there that have been taking such wonderful care of him.”
Intermountain cites staffing shortages as the reason for the closure, noting they would not have enough staff to cover shifts beginning Sept. 22. The organization said in a press release: “At this time, our primary concern is for the 16 children who will be discharged from our program. Their well-being is our priority.”
A spokesperson told MTN, “Our clinical team is working with families, legal guardians, and agencies to find the best solutions on an individual basis for each child and family.”
Morrow's daughter has been in the program for about a year. Morrow said she has made good progress since then, learning how to open up and trust people and how to communicate her feelings — and she added the program has helped her relate with her children as well. However, she's concerned her daughter wasn't close to being ready to be released.
“I'm so scared that when we find that new placement — if we can even find that new placement — she isn't going to be able to open up like she did with Intermountain,” said Morrow.
MacDonald says she felt fortunate to get her son into Intermountain after looking at many other options. She says he's only been there about three months, but she's already seen a change in how he copes with his emotions. She feels indebted to the staff at the residential program, but she's worried about how this change is going to affect the children.
“The thing that is more disturbing than anything is that we have these kids who are making this progress and now it's like it's resetting them; they're going to have to start all over in the process again,” she said. “There's kids that have probably been there longer than my son, and so it's starting all over again — and that is so heartbreaking for the kids, for the families.”
Each of the parents MTN spoke to said they were very happy with the care their children were receiving at the Residential Program.
The closure will also impact 55 staff members at Intermountain’s residential campus in Helena.
“Intermountain is working on a plan to provide transition opportunities to affected staff to offer them other opportunities in our other programs while we rebuild,” said Intermountain in their statement.
Intermountain leadership says they plan to reopen the program but first, they will restructure and find a “more sustainable approach.”
It is unclear at this time what a timeline for reopening the residential program may be, with Intermountain saying the program with reopen after they have "addressed our workforce challenges." Leadership indicated incentives are being offered to staff who stay through the closure.
The closure comes after 55 employees submitted a letter to the Intermountain Board of Directors expressing no confidence in the board and the interim CEO, which was first reported by the Helena Independent Record.
Intermountain was founded in 1909. They provide mental health services to children, adults and families in the Helena, Billings and Bozeman areas.
A spokesperson for the organization said this is the first full program closure at Intermountain, although they have had to reduce the number of open cottages within their residential program before.
The closure of the residential program will not impact other programs and services offered by Intermountain.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with quotes from affected parents.