Judge hears objections to closing Greene Valley Developmental Center

In a federal court hearing at Nashville Wednesday, there were impassioned objections to the state’s plan to close Greene Valley Developmental Center from relatives with disabled loved ones still living there, reports The Tennessean.

Four guardians of residents living in Greene Valley have hired an attorney, who on Wednesday asked that the court allow them to intervene in the case.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp said he will rule next week on whether the guardians can legally intervene. He will also rule on whether to approve an “exit plan” from the lawsuit that includes the plan to close Greene Valley as well as institute other changes in the way the state cares for people with intellectual disabilities.

But lawyers for the state told the judge that while his approval is needed to end the long-running court case, the decision to close Greene Valley ultimately lies with the state.

… The plan to close Greene Valley is part of an overall agreement to end nearly 20 years of federal court oversight over two large institutions operated by the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. A second institution, Clover Bottom Developmental Center in Nashville, is scheduled to close in June.

A federal court has been overseeing the facilities since the Department of Justice first filed suit in 1996 over deplorable conditions inside the state’s institutions for people with intellectual disabilities, defined as possessing an IQ of 70 or less.

The plan to shut down Greene Valley emerged unexpectedly earlier this month, taking many guardians by surprise.

But it comes many years into a national movement to end the practice of caring for people in large asylum-style facilities and integrating them into neighborhood homes. For decades, Tennessee officials have slowly transitioned residents form large institutions into small group homes or four- or eight-person medical facilities.

“This should come as no real surprise to anyone because in many respects that institution has been closing since the 1970s,” said Jonathan Lakey, an attorney for the state.

At its peak, 3,200 people lived in state institutions, but today just 96 remain at Greene Valley and 20 at Clover Bottom. The cost of providing care to so few in institutions built to serve hundreds has become “economically prohibitive,” Lakey said.