published Thursday, August 4th, 2011

The cruel gutting of TEAM

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    The TEAM Centers Inc. is a private nonprofit organization with an office at 1000 Third St. in Chattanooga that handles evaluation and assessment of people with developmental disabilities.
    Photo by Alex Washburn.
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When it comes to heartlessness and the cruel gutting of essential services for the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled, Gov. Bill Haslam's administration and his chiefs at the state's Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) are apparently peerless.

First they slashed budgets and services in the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Then, overriding pleas from advocates from the Tennessee Health Care Coalition, they stripped TennCare's meager capacity to provide back-up mental and behavioral-care services.

Then they eliminated a critical funding grant of $774,000 for the Chattanooga-based TEAM Evaluation Center, the lifeline for some 2,700 patients and their families in southeast Tennessee who need help to care for children and adult family members with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities.

And then, they told the families of patients at TEAM to look for help at the equally strapped county school systems and Siskin Hospital, neither of which possess the staff or the expertise in severe developmental disabilities that would be needed to replicate the coordinated teams of diagnosticians, clinicians and doctors at the TEAM Center.

The state's myopic elimination of the sustaining grant to the TEAM Center, announced barely two weeks ago, was as surprising as it was shocking. It was surprising because it came with no advance notice, and only after the Legislature had ended its session and its budget reviews, which might have averted the shutdown had it been announced earlier.

And it was shocking -- affected families say it is absolutely devastating -- because it left no viable option for replacing the critical lost services of the TEAM Center.

There's also this stunning kicker. After zeroing out the grant that had sustained these irreplaceable services at Team Center for more than 15 years, the state initiated a new grant of $4 million to the East Tennessee Human Resource Agency, an independent public service agency which according to its website currently provides no programs remotely similar to those provided by TEAM center.

According to the DIDD proposed 2011-2012 budget, the new services at the Greeneville agency in northeast Tennessee, four hours away, will use the $4,035,300 grant to provide a staff of 45 and new services to some 290 patients. If that's an accurate figure, its expenditures would amount to more than $13,900 per patient. TEAM Center's comparative cost for highly valued services by a staff of 25 members to 2,700 patients under the $774,000 grant equates to an average per patient cost of just $286.

State DIDD officials have suggested that southeast Tennessee residents may make appointments at the Greeneville Resource Center, though Commissioner Jim Henry confessed that he didn't know if its services would meet the clinical and diagnostic needs of TEAM Center patients.

That's all the more reason to question the state's new investment at Greeneville for start-up services, of whatever sort, which are so inordinately expensive compared to the cost of the vital services that it is stripping out of Chattanooga's TEAM Center and its patient base of 10 times the projected size of Greeneville's new unit.

None of this meets the common-sense standard. It certainly doesn't justify the crippling loss of TEAM Center services in southeast Tennessee, and the tragic consequences that will now befall the families left to deal with circumstances beyond their ability to handle.

It exposes, as well, the deep flaw in the logic that DIDD officials use to justify spending nearly $14 million to fund the three centers in west, middle and northeast Tennessee: To provide critical services for intellectually and developmental impaired citizens which typically are not otherwise available.

These services will not be available in Southeast Tennessee if TEAM Center funding dries up. The only way to forestall the blind and illogical gutting of services at TEAM Center is for Gov. Haslam to reverse the current cutoff of funding on Aug. 12. That deadline is just eight days away. Haslam will have to move fast to prove his administration isn't both wrong and heartless.

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sandyonsignal said...

Absolutely right, this is wrong and heartless. The families have been given one wrong reason after another by DIDDS and others. First, we heard every department has to cut spending and save money. That proved to be false when we saw the budget took our money and directed it to Greenville for a new center at 47 times the cost as us. We are at $774,000 for 2,700 people and the new center serves 290 people for $4,000,000 and those are only Medicaid waiver recipients.

Second, we were told the grant specified only for early intervention purposes this was told by Deputy Commissioner O"Brien. The grant was pulled and pasted on "keep team center open" at Facebook, and it showed nothing at all of this. It stated everything but early intervention.

Third, Commissioner Henry, himself, told one of us "they don't serve children" that is up to the school system. We all were saddened about this lie, until someone came up and showed us the T.C.A section 33 which stated children are a priority and the responsibilities of DIDDS. See Chris Carroll's excellent coverage on Team on Tuesday where the law states otherwise.

So, he lied about what the law states, what the grant stated and saving money. Henry is in charge of our most vulnerable population. If he lies to the families, legislators and Times Free Press, imagine what kind of protector he will be for the disabled.

Henry's idea of institutionalizing people instead of providing home health services needs some scrutiny. First, people who are institutionalized don't thrive. They lack the support and love of their families and social connections. Second, it is more expensive to do this. Haslam is backing Henry on this bad idea, too. Henry's interest in this project warrants further investigation.

Henry's business is Omni Visions, a company receiving state money for foster care , etc.. In 2007, OmniVision received $40 million from Department of Children's Services. Very little goes to the foster families, the bulk goes to him and he isn't doing the providing and work. He's a broker, middle man, whatever you want to call it, but he is making an exorbitant profit from taxpayer dollars.

August 4, 2011 at 7:31 a.m.
concernedintn said...

Excellent editorial and points, sandyonsignal. I would also suggest that it is worth investigating how much of DIDDS funding goes to Omnivisions for their "supported living" and "medical supported living" group homes and other services. Omnivisions has several such homes here in the Chattanooga area as well as across the entire state of Tennessee.

August 4, 2011 at 8:27 a.m.

This is outrageous that this is happening. The Team Center is so important to so many families, where does DIDD expect us to go? Where are the rights to those with disabilities? The schools does not offer all the services that the Team Services provide. My kids pediatrician, I told him that my child has PDD-NOS, he didn't even know what that was & I had to explain it to him. So as you see these patients just can't fall back onto just any Dr. they need Dr. Rubin from the TEAM CENTER. My child who has PDD-NOS is 8, says if they close the Team Center I am going to be so mad. My 10yr old, thinks this is so bad of those people to do this & that Commissioner Henry is a BAD MAN. I am so greatful with your story & I am sharing it with others. Thank you very much.

August 4, 2011 at 9:01 a.m.
sandyonsignal said...

I thought you meant reprehensible. That word works too.

August 4, 2011 at 10:59 a.m.
rolando said...

Well, the TFP is certainly getting a lot of mileage out of TEAM.

Maybe if the state/city cuts the welfare budget for ne'er-do-well scumbuckets who drive Escalades holding their cellphone there would be more than enough money to fully fund our hospitals...

Sorta kinda tough to do both these days...and it is going to get worse. Fewer people working everyday, paying less tax, and buying less will see to that.

Let's hear it for O'Bomba. Hey, at least he is blaming honest gunshop owners for selling all those BATF guns to the Mexicans.

August 4, 2011 at 5:07 p.m.
Selah said...

Republicans ...have only just begun. Keep voting for them and it will only get worse. I did it in the past (voting for Republians) but not any longer. The true agenda of the Republican Party has come forth.

August 4, 2011 at 10:44 p.m.
mountainlaurel said...

SandyonSignal said: "Henry's idea of institutionalizing people instead of providing home health services needs some scrutiny. . . Henry's business is Omni Visions, a company receiving state money for foster care , etc.. In 2007, OmniVision received $40 million from Department of Children's Services."

The potential for "conflict of interest" seems rather obvious here - enough to warrant an outside investigation. It does not bode well that Governor Haslam supports such a setup.

August 5, 2011 at 8:31 a.m.
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