published Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

As clinic closes, patients wonder about future

by Chris Carroll
Caleb Bryan, 9, plays with a Wii game system under a collection of stuffed animals while at his Cleveland, Tenn., residence. Caleb's mother, Jennifer Bryan, has noticed improvements in her autistic son's development which she attributes to the TEAM Evaluations Center.
Caleb Bryan, 9, plays with a Wii game system under a collection of stuffed animals while at his Cleveland, Tenn., residence. Caleb's mother, Jennifer Bryan, has noticed improvements in her autistic son's development which she attributes to the TEAM Evaluations Center.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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• Siskin Children's Institute: 423-648-1700,

• Autism Society of Middle Tennessee: 615-385-2077

• Orange Grove Center: 423-629-1451


The Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities declined to fully fund a diagnostic and evaluation program at TEAM Centers Inc., a Chattanooga nonprofit that treats the mentally disabled, leaving thousands of patients without a formerly reliable option.

The state offered funding through September, but TEAM's executive director decided to use the money to shut down the agency's clinical care on Aug. 15. State officials don't know why and may look into the issue.

  • photo
    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.
    enlarge photo

Jennifer Bryan already juggles many worlds.

An unemployed single mom using student loans for living expenses, Bryan runs errands for her mother for extra cash, lives in a cramped apartment in Cleveland, Tenn., and cares for Caleb, her 9-year-old autistic son.

A rising fourth-grader at Stuart Elementary School, Caleb "doesn't really comprehend the emotions of people," his mother said. For example, he's unable to tell the difference between a sad person and an angry person.

"It's significant," his mother said. "He does not know how to socialize with his peers."

When she heard news that Caleb's therapy hub, Chattanooga-based TEAM Centers Inc., was closing its key clinical program on Aug. 15, she was devastated. Her son had his bimonthly appointment on Aug. 16.

"TEAM needs somebody from the outside looking at what's going on," said Bryan, 34, who finances Caleb's care through her ex-husband's private insurance. "Why are they suddenly closing the doors? Something's not right."

This month, TEAM Centers Inc. did not receive a $774,000 state grant it had received for years as part of statewide budget cuts, but records show state officials offered a $193,000 grant to allow the nonprofit to extend clinical care through the end of September. It also would give TEAM extra time to seek alternative revenue options.

But TEAM Centers Inc. Interim Executive Director Peter Charman said he plans to use the $193,000 for severance packages and "shutdown costs," an explanation that's baffled state officials and parents alike.

"It's absolutely a foreign concept to me," said Debbie Payne, assistant commissioner for community services at the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, which routed money to TEAM. "The term is even new to me -- 'shutdown costs.' That's not terminology that we use."

And using the $193,000 grant "for the purpose of a program to wind down their business is not a responsible use of state funds," said Missy Marshall, the department's spokeswoman.

The department has decided against awarding the grant for now, she said.

"We will not be reimbursing for severance packages and shutdown costs," Marshall said.

Since Caleb's first appointment last October, TEAM staffers have been patient with him, Bryan said. They correctly diagnosed him with autism after years of teachers, principals and doctors dismissing Caleb's symptoms with: "He has ADHD."

TEAM therapists used flash cards to help Caleb distinguish between sad and angry, aiming to mix him with children "at that age where he needs to have some social skills," Bryan said.

He got them.

In April, Stuart Elementary School named Caleb student of the month, a distinction his mother "never thought he would get." And for the upcoming school year, Caleb's special education teacher decided against a behavior plan, an unusual step that indicates progress.

Now that TEAM is no longer an option, Bryan doesn't know where she'll turn. Chattanooga's Siskin Children's Institute "doesn't really do the stuff TEAM Center does," Bryan said.

State government social services are stretched and Vanderbilt in Nashville is "a long way to go" for bimonthly appointments, she said.

Deborah Luehrs, a spokeswoman for Siskin, said the nonprofit, in fact, does much of what TEAM does, at least in terms of disabled patients under 21. But much of the work focuses on diagnosis rather than treatment.

"We do [diagnosis] all day long," she said. "And we refer elsewhere if we don't offer a certain service."

Bryan could bring her son to Siskin, but there is a waiting list, Luehrs said.

"Wait times are always a problem in facilities like this, we're booking into 2012 for assessment appointments," she said.

Luehrs said Siskin saw more than 614 families from six states, amounting to 3,800 visits in fiscal year 2009-10.

Regina Gargus, the area's only board-certified developmental pediatrician, holds appointments at Siskin from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on most days, Luehrs added.

"Dr. Gargus relies on creative scheduling for really critical situations when somebody needs to get in quicker," Luehrs said.

Charman said 2,800 families visited TEAM 4,500 times over last fiscal year, which ended June 30. The state was unable to verify those figures Friday.

"I'm really concerned," Bryan said. "I don't know what I'm going to do."

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sandyonsignal said...

So what if it is funded through September? It is still closing and this is a terrible thing to happen. Who cares if they investigate? The point is the state closed down an important and unique clinic for the autistic and developmentally disabled in our region; thus, creating tremendous problems.

The other resources this article mentions are not the same as TEAM. Orange Grove is for kids with severe impairments and one needs to go through HCDE in order to get there. Up until recently, Siskin was for little kids and as the article points out it is for diagnostics not the help needed later. Autism Society of Tennessee is not a medical group.
TEAM along with parents created the Chattanooga Autism Center, two years ago. Each month, they provide a seminar on different themes: how to get your child to sleep through the night, how to get help with IEP's, picky eaters, toilet training, using the i-pad, etc... They even had a weekly summer series on toilet training for kids over the age of 8. When it started, there were about 6 people, by the time the series ended, the room was packed. Toilet training is one of the great frustrations with autism, and not many talk about it or help with it. I don't know of other help like this around here.

Same with the conferences that were put on, the first year it was unknown, but still sold out to 200 people. Second conference, grew to 500 in attendance. This was with little advertising from the outside.

TEAM provides help throughout a person's life. Don't know what we are going to do without TEAM. Dr. Rubin is a renowned specialist, who comes up every Monday from Atlanta. He is understanding, caring and an expert in autism. He notices all the small changes in our son, and gives positive feedback and helpful tips. He is the best doctor around. I will be driving to Atlanta for him. But what about others? Is this fair to lose such a great place here in Chattanooga? His work is an asset to our area. The state is depriving our children of much needed services by not funding Team.

We, taxpayers, of the State of Tennessee have spend millions of dollars attracting international companies to our area. We go out of our way to appease Amazon in their sales tax tantrum; yet, when it comes to our citizens, our most vulnerable citizens, we turn away any help. Shame on TIDDS!

July 23, 2011 at 8:11 a.m.

And then we wonder why so many people feel helpless in our state/society. Priorities are soooo wrong among politicians who control the state's check book.

July 23, 2011 at 9:05 a.m.
nowfedup said...

Reality is "who cares about shutdown?" After these kids do not contribute to campaign funds, will not make huge profits from developments and such given companies getting huge tax breaks that result in most needy being cut off.

Perhaps if the kids could form PAC's, raise money for the parties, or as humorously called by the money/king makers, "be active in politics" some might notice them, give them huge breaks. But for now they are now available to buy elected/appointed, do not wear $1000 suits, part of good ole boys/girls money club

But perhaps if the kids started supporting gun rights, impose their views of their religions on everyone, and contribute funds, some of elected might care. , Sorry kids but TN no longer cares, in fact USA not longer cares much about that ole "A nation, it's people, are measured by how it treats it most unfortunate" or do most citizens recall "But for the grace of God go I"

July 23, 2011 at 9:26 a.m.
sandyonsignal said...

Tennessee politicians better never preach about family values again. If they cared about our families, they would be of help with this. As Now Fed Up said, these kids don't make political contributions so they have no voice with the corrupt politicians. Sad.

July 23, 2011 at 9:52 a.m.
heresjohnny said...

TEAM is not a priority because, outside of the family and teachers of children with disabilities, society does not value them. It's sick and really sad. The state of Tennessee expects these children to do well on state assessments (alternative, modified, and regular) so our numbers look good, but in the end, does it really matter? The state doesn't care what happens to them after they turn 21. I really hope that the state will reestablish this program.

July 23, 2011 at 10:10 a.m.
mthompson332 said...

...except they seem to have a crooked executive director. Unlike "Sandy on Signal" I do care about where state money goes, no matter how little it might be...sad all the way around...TEAM sounds like a great program that should have been fully funded...and families should have been given another six weeks of the program so they could find another option...

July 23, 2011 at 10:14 a.m.
johnnyhurst said...

This is just another example of our elected officials failing our children. Im of the opinion that you can disrespect me and it may make me angry, but if you disrespect my child, youd better be prepared for a fist fight. These are fightin words people. We cant let those SOBs who are supposed to be looking out for our kids get away with this. Its time we hold these bastards accountable for their incompetence and neglegence.

July 23, 2011 at 10:26 a.m.
sandyonsignal said...

Mthompson332, I don't know the director of TEAM. Never heard of his name until it was mentioned by this paper.

I only know the doctors, therapists and families at TEAM. There is no waste of state money with this. You look at that little boy's face in this article, that is who I am interested in seeing gets the help he needs. I see no waste of spending in helping him. He and his family needs help. He's already made strides because of TEAM. The school system said he was ADHD, just another way to not provide services he needs by improperly diagnosing someone. This is why TEAM is so important to families.

July 23, 2011 at 10:37 a.m.

WOW! I am shocked at the TEAM closing- my son was a patient there for a long time, going twice a week for his autism! This was the best facility around. The staff was so helpful in helping me understand what went on in my sons brain- not to mention the amazing treatment they were able to provide to him. Since they are closing this great place down, then they need to put all of their staff into schools around the TN valley to give these children the treatment they need while at school! Make it part of their plan!

July 23, 2011 at 10:39 a.m.
davebuck said...

Chris Carroll listed Autism Society of MIDDLE Tennessee (ASMT) as a local resource for people in the greater Chattanooga area. As all the readers surely recognized, ASMT is a Nashville-based chapter serving middle TN and is also not in the business of providing diagnostic, evaluation, or therapy services for people. While ASMT is a fantastic organization, it's not a relevant, nor a local resource in this case.

I'm unsure why Autism Society of America -East Tennessee Chapter (ASA-ETC) or the Chattanooga Autism Center (CAC) were not listed instead? These are similar organizations to ASMT, but are local. Both are great organizations/programs and work together, and the CAC is a program of the TEAM Centers. To clarify, neither provide evaluation or therapy as the Outpatient Clinic does. They provide education and support to parents looking to create programs beyond what is provided clinically.

July 23, 2011 at 10:40 a.m.
mthompson332 said...

That's the POINT sandy...the money was supposed to FUND the program through families could find another option and TEAM could find another source for $$$ the article

July 23, 2011 at 10:45 a.m.
sandyonsignal said...

We don't have another option here. Read my comment above.

July 23, 2011 at 10:50 a.m.
eastridge8 said...

This is so sad...and so unfair...I am so sorry for the families of these children who now cannot get the wonderful help they were getting at TEAM...

Would contacting your Representatives/Congressmen/Senators help? (I don't know...just asking.)

July 23, 2011 at 11:01 a.m.
hmgreen said...

There were cuts to Siskins as well. I have a infant who was born at 27 weeks. She has epilepsy, CP and Hydrocephalus. She is at a 3-5 month level as far as development goes. Cognitively she is at a 10 month level. What frustrates me is that my daughter is 13 months old now. The older she gets the wider the gap. With all these children with special needs, early intervention is so crucial. They are so capable of getting a leg up and places like these really help. I want my daughter to function normally, just as any other parent of a special needs child. It is beyond frustrating when the government makes cuts such as these that takes away that lifeline. They need to take a paycut to live like the other half instead of messing with childrens therapies!!!

July 23, 2011 at 11:13 a.m.
darkorb3 said...

That's my brother,and im rlly hoping that we can find another clinic like TEAM.I'm rlly sad to see this happen to him and my mom.

July 23, 2011 at 3 p.m.
sandyonsignal said...

Hugs to you, dear dark orb3. We will all stick together for one another whatever the outcome is. We are here for you and your family. You are not alone.

July 23, 2011 at 8:59 p.m.
JV said...


This is CRIMINAL! There are no other options for our loved ones in this area.cTEAM is the lifeline for so many. Is there any way to turn this around? Hamilton County has made significant cuts to an already struggling school system where most of these kids slip through the cracks or are given the minimal care and education. Often times the Special Ed Dept is one step up from a childcare facility at no fault of the dedicated teachers but the funds just arent available. Why doesn't anyone understand/care that we will pay now or pay later for these children. Supporting them through services such a TEAM gives many of them their only chance at a decent life. What will happen to our children now?

July 23, 2011 at 9:37 p.m.
sandyonsignal said...

Hear, hear, JV. i'm numb now from all the outrage, but agree this is criminal!!!

July 23, 2011 at 10:06 p.m.
sandyonsignal said...

Chris Carroll.please talk to us. The autism community is vast and in dire need. Please reach us through social media on FB: Keep Team Centers, we need both sides to be presented, please. We need all of your help. If you are a grandparent, parent, sibling, .. please help!!!! Help us, everyone, please.

July 23, 2011 at 10:25 p.m.
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