Judges OKs end to 20-year-old lawsuit over TN developmental centers

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has accepted the state’s proposal to close Tennessee’s last large facility housing mentally disabled people by the end of next June.

Media report that Judge Kevin Sharpe issued his ruling on Thursday, about a week after hearing arguments in Nashville for and against the closure of the Greene Valley Developmental Center in Greenville, which has nearly 100 residents and about 600 workers.

State officials recommended closing the facility to end a long-running lawsuit over care of the mentally disabled. They plan to move the residents into more community-like settings as part of a larger movement to improve services and get people out of large institutions.

The judge ruled the state’s proposal “benefits the public interest.”

“The court concludes that the exit plan presented by the parties is ‘fair, reasonable and adequate’ and provides the next iteration of improvement to the lives of those with disabilities in Tennessee. It will test political will and legislative leadership to continue that progress and to determine how best to care for those often left in the shadows,” he wrote.

He ruled that the families who tried to intervene to keep the center open did not file their motion in a timely manner and meet other requirements.

He did acknowledge their concerns, but said others have been moved out of institutions into alternative care facilities with favorable outcomes.

Note: Press release below.

News release from Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities:
NASHVILLE—A federal judge issued an order on Thursday approving an Exit Plan that ultimately will lead to the end of a nearly 20-year-old lawsuit stemming from conditions at three current and former state developmental centers for persons with intellectual disabilities.

The order was issued by U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp and approves the Exit Plan in the long-standing Clover Bottom lawsuit. The Exit Plan was agreed to and executed by all of the parties to the lawsuit: the State, the U.S. Department of Justice, People First of Tennessee and the Parent Guardian Associations of Clover Bottom Developmental Center and Greene Valley Developmental Center.

The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), the Bureau of TennCare and the Attorney General’s office participated in court-ordered mediation for six months to reach the Exit Plan. The order entered by Judge Sharp calls for a two-phase dismissal of the lawsuit based on the state completing obligations set forth in the Exit Plan.

The first phase is comprised of eight responsibilities DIDD and TennCare must complete by December 31, 2015 in order for the lawsuit to be partially dismissed. These responsibilities include:

• Developing behavior respite services in East and Middle Tennessee
• Revising support plan templates for persons supported and requiring training for support coordinators
• Developing training for licensed physicians on the use of psychotropic medications for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities
• Enhancing training for law enforcement who may come into contact with persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities

The second phase requires the closure of Greene Valley Developmental Center in Greeneville by June 30, 2016. Upon closure, the lawsuit would be fully and finally dismissed.

“Coming to this exit plan required us to make some tough decisions, and we have a lot of work ahead of us,” DIDD Commissioner Debra Payne said. “However, we believe the Exit Plan as a whole will benefit not only the members of the lawsuit class but also every person who receives DIDD services now and in the future.”

The lawsuit was brought by People First of Tennessee and the U.S. Department of Justice in 1995 over conditions at Clover Bottom Developmental Center, Greene Valley Developmental Center and the now-closed Nat T. Winston Developmental Center. Clover Bottom Developmental Center is scheduled to close this summer.