HELENA – A leader with Helena Industries’ board of directors spoke out Monday about the organization’s decision to close its doors.
“It’s terribly painful for everybody on the board,” said Chuck Siefert, the board’s vice chair.
The nonprofit announced last week that it will shut down operations on Friday, then declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy next week. Siefert said the delay will give employees more time to cash their final paychecks.
Helena Industries has served people with developmental disabilities for more than 40 years. It offers vocational programs like a mail center and wood shop, and provides targeted case management for about 700 people.
Siefert said Helena Industries has been struggling for some time. He said leaders brought in consultants and looked at various options to reorganize or make further cutbacks, but that it became clear several weeks ago the nonprofit would have to close.
“This was not what we were wanting to do,” he said. “It just got to a point where we realized there was no other option.”
Siefert said the biggest blow came when the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services announced plans to end Helena Industries’ case management contract, as a response to heavy state budget cuts. Case management revenues made up nearly a third of the nonprofit’s budget.
“Some of the programs paid for the others, and this one paid for most of the others,” Siefert said.
Helena Industries currently provides case management services to people in Cascade, Beaverhead, Deer Lodge, Gallatin, Granite, Jefferson, Madison, Park, Powell and Silver Bow Counties. It is one of four nonprofits currently receiving a state contract for those services.
DPHHS leaders said they discussed the possibility of those providers continuing to offer services at a lower reimbursement rate, but that the efforts were unsuccessful. Instead, they are now looking for a single contractor to handle case management on a statewide level.
Siefert said Helena Industries was not in a position to be able to bid for the statewide contract.
Helena Industries also faced a number of other challenges in recent months, including a fire that forced their thrift store to close for weeks.
“We’d kind of get on our feet, and then we’d take a hit,” he said. “That was the struggle, and it’s the struggle for all nonprofits.”
Now, leaders are working to determine what to do for the hundreds of clients who receive services through Helena Industries. Seifert said other local providers may help pick up some of the organization’s programs.
“We’re discussing whatever we can do to help the consumers,” he said.
In a statement Monday, state health department director Sheila Hogan said her agency will work to find a resolution.
“Helena Industries has been an exceptional provider for many years, and we were deeply saddened to learn last week of their plans to close,” said Hogan. “This is a tremendous loss for Helena and the state of Montana. At this time, we are focused on working collaboratively with them and other providers to develop a transition plan for clients in order to minimize the impact as much as possible.”
The health department said providers have already reached out to ask how they can help with the transition. The department will contact clients and their families in the coming days to provide more information about the changes.
Siefert, who has served on Helena Industries’ board for nine years, said it’s unfortunate that the nonprofit’s closure will affect people in need the most.
“This doesn’t feel like who we are as Montanans, that the most vulnerable of our society are the ones that take the hit,” he said. “It’s sad to see this evaporate like this.”