Anaconda, MT

The Disturbing History of Montana State Hospital and is Still Standing

Sara B

The Montana State Hospital is the state's first and longest-running publically operated psychiatric hospital. Yet, it has a horrific and disturbing story to tell.

Montana State Hospital was founded in 1877, which was 12 years before Montana became a state. It is in Warm Springs, Montana, near I-90 and Anaconda, Montana. At one point, the hospital was one of Montana's largest unincorporated communities and reached up to 1964 patients in 1954.

The hospital made headlines in 1924 when it was discovered that 11 of its inmates were forcibly sterilized. Yet the hospital staff reported that the sterilization had been approved and eugenics were necessary for Montana's future. Two hundred fifty-six people in total were fixed by Montana's eugenics program from 1923 until 1954.

By the 1950s, the hospital had around 2000 patients, chickens, cattle, and a greenhouse. Now, the hospital houses around 200 patients. Yet reports of inappropriate care have been reported.

While patient Danielle Lewis was admitted on two separate occasions in 2020 and 2021, she reported being groped by other patients. Lewis also said that the staff ignored her complaints. Lewis was admitted for suicidal thoughts and used a wheelchair for her cerebral palsy.

The second time she was revealed, the staff left her alone and didn't help her change or take a bath, which led to bedsores. Lewis reported that being there made her condition worse and exacerbated her depression and bipolar disorder.

The hospital is now at risk of losing funding after an impromptu visit in February 2022. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found the hospital did not comply with federal standards and found four deaths in five months. The CMS then returned to the hospital after a patient-on-patient assault.

Data from DPH also found the hospital is 7 million over budget due to the use of travel nurses since most full-time employees have left the hospital. However, they state that the problems stemmed from when the hospital was opened, saying:

"Going back to when it was opened, it was set up to fail from a business standpoint," said Joel Peden, a longtime lobbyist for disability rights in Montana. "All institutions were built in remote areas because people didn't want to see them.
"So as time moves on, what happens is people forget about the patients that are there. And this is not something that happens overnight. It builds its own momentum."

The hospital remains open even though many have filed complaints against the hospital, including Jennifer Mitchell. Her husband was admitted to the hospital after getting into a car accident. The physicians thought because he had dementia, he was in danger of harming himself.

However, Jennifer could not visit him once he was admitted due to restrictions. Also, no one would give her details about what kind of care or medications he was receiving.

"I tried to get an idea of what he was taking, not taking. I could not get answers," Jennifer said.

Once he was discharged after 60 days, she discovered he was on medications for congestive heart failure, and a month later, he went into cardiac arrest and died on August 4, 2021.

After the decertification, there were then patients having injuries requiring hospitalization and eight substantiated abuse and neglect reports. There were also six patient deaths; however, it is unsure what happened, as the investigation was either not done or not available to the public.

The state health department denied all requests for information about Montana State Hospital patients, deaths, injuries, and assaults since it lost federal certification.

The hospital remains open; however, there are still high staff vacancies, budget deficits, and health and safety standards shortfalls. There is still no federal funding or accreditations.

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