By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
WINCHESTER, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is defending the decision to cut back home care for people with developmental disabilities despite a federal lawsuit seeking to stop the move to group homes.
Haslam said after a ribbon-cutting event in at Tims Ford State Park on Thursday that the group homes save money while still delivering personalized services.
“We can still maintain a high quality of care for each one of these individuals,” Haslam said.
“I understand the families, and the pain that people feel,” he said. “But again, I think we feel like we can provide a high quality of care in this situation.”
The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of 39 Tennesseans ranging from ages 7 to 52 over the cuts to in-home care services, claiming the move violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Cathy Hughes, mother of plaintiff Christopher Hughes, 35, told The Tennessean newspaper that her son has cerebral palsy and requires round-the-clock care.
“Can you imagine having to take your child out of your home?” she said. “Chris wants to be home.”
Haslam said being the subject of lawsuits comes with the job of being governor.
“Nobody ever likes to be sued,” he said. “Unfortunately, when you’re in any position of responsibility, lawsuits come with it.”
Haslam in December named Jim Henry of Kingston to head the new state Department of Intellectual Disabilities, which launched the following month after previously being part of the state’s finance department.
Before being named commissioner, Henry was head of Omni Visions Inc., which serves adults with developmental disabilities and families in crisis.
“I think it’s always important when you’re dealing with hard issues and making tough decisions, that you have people that understand the consequences,” Haslam said. “And Jim does.”
Henry, a former state lawmaker and Kingston mayor, has a son with developmental disabilities.
“Jim really understands the needs, and as a parent he understands the pain,” Haslam said. “But he also understands how state government works.”
State officials have argued the only alternative to limiting care is to eliminate the program because of budget pressures.
“I’m convinced that we’re doing the right thing for the state and for the individuals involved,” Haslam said.
The cost of home care has been a recurring issue in recent years. Nationally, aging and disability services in three out of four states have been reduced over the last two years or face cuts, even though demand is increasing.
Tennessee began making its home health care cuts in 2008 when it dialed back what had been unlimited private duty nursing and home health benefits in the TennCare program. Then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, argued that Tennessee was the only state that offered the service in its expanded Medicaid program, and that costs ballooned from $18 million to $240 million in eight years.
The state limited the number of daily visits to two, and the weekly total to 40 hours of home nursing care.
In 2006, police arrested more than 100 disabled people for refusing to move their wheelchairs from intersections around the state Capitol. The protest centered on the lack of options for disabled care outside of nursing homes.