Category Archives: mental health

Mental Health Commissioner Varney retiring

News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Doug Varney will retire next month.

Varney has served as commissioner since 2011. Under Varney’s leadership, the department completed a major transformation in the mental health system in east Tennessee, better serving long-term patients by transitioning them into community-based programs. The department has also improved medical and business operations of state hospitals and made significant progress addressing the prescription drug epidemic.

“Doug’s passion for helping those with mental health and substance abuse issues has made a tremendous impact on the state. As a member of my Public Safety Subcabinet, I especially appreciate all he has done to help fight prescription drug abuse and expand and strengthen drug recovery courts in Tennessee,” Haslam said. “Doug has helped change the lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens, and for that I am grateful.” Continue reading

Greene Valley closing delayed another six months

State officials said in a letter Wednesday that Greene Valley Developmental Center, the last state-run institution for people with disabilities in Tennessee and one of the largest employers in Greene County, will remain in operation for another six months, reports WJHL-TV.

The hundreds of employees still working at Greene Valley, have been told it would close in June of this year, then that was pushed back to December, and now it’s set to close in Spring of 2017.

Back in January of 2015, dozens of people protested to keep Greene Valley from closing. But now, the question isn’t if Greene Valley will close but when.

“I’ve been telling the state this for several years that it’s going to take a longer time to transition residents into the community then they’ve set a time frame to do so,” Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) said.

In the letter sent to employees, the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities sent to employees this week, it said challenges came up in building some of the private homes for residents transitioning out of Greene Valley. And because of that, Greene Valley will stay open until Spring of 2017.

The DIDD commissioner said in the letter that as they transition residents out of Greene Valley they will also reduce staffing.

DIDD spokesperson Cara Kumari said in a statement: “A significant percentage of employees working with persons supported at GVDC will have the opportunity to accompany them into their new community home and become employees of the private agency.”

State lags in moving disabled out of closing institution

Greene Valley Developmental Center, the last state-run institution for adults with disabilities, is scheduled to close in just four months, but 58 residents still call the facility home and state Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, says it may have to stay open until next summer.

Further from WJHL TV:

“My concern continues to be that we are not going to have all these community homes built and functional by the end of this calendar year which is what DIDD has promised,” Hawk said.

On Friday, the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) celebrated the first resident to move out of Greene Valley and in to a new care facility in Roane County. But this facility is the only one complete, with 15 left to go across the state. Continue reading

Knox mayor: Haslam broke promise on mental health funding

Excerpt from a Betty Bean column on Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s dispute with Gov. Bill Haslam, who the former state senator says had indicated the state would help with funding for a behavioral health urgent care unit (formerly known as the safety center).

Knox County put $1 million aside for the facility several years ago, plus another $200,000 in this year’s budget. Mayor Madeline Rogero has set aside $200,000. That won’t be enough, but Burchett vowed to find the money and dismissed the explanation he was given for the administration’s decision.

“I was misled about that, and I’m very put out about it. I was told, ‘Mental health is a local issue.’ Well, dadgummit, then, why do we have a Department of Mental Health in the state of Tennessee?”

He said the largest mental health hospitals in the state are the Shelby County, Davidson County and Knox County jails, and didn’t dodge the question of whether denial of state funds amounts to a broken promise by Gov. Bill Haslam:

“Yes. I’m of the opinion it was – but regardless of the state’s partnership, we’re going to go ahead with it…”

Burchett said about half of mentally ill inmates are veterans and accused the governor of breaking his promise that funding would follow the patients after he shut down Lakeshore Institute in 2012.

“We closed down Lakeshore and everybody loves Lakeshore Park – but where are those people going? You drive under any major bridge in Knoxville, you’ll see the human cost.”

A couple of days after his talk show appearances, Burchett still hadn’t cooled off, and said he was offended that Haslam was pleading budget constraints while spending $8 million subsidizing the TV show “Nashville.”

“They pulled the rug out from under us. I don’t like it when they start explaining that they didn’t get as much money as they expected, but I see all these little projects getting funded. I spent 16 years in the Legislature, was on the Senate Finance Committee and chaired the Budget Subcommittee. I know the system and I don’t like hearing that crap. I know that taking care of the mentally ill’s not sexy like that miserable TV show – which has been cancelled, thank goodness – but when they talk about return on investment, I say, ‘What about investing in somebody not going to jail when what they need is treatment?’”

Counseling group growls about Haslam’s comments on therapists

In an interview with National Public Radio, Gov. Bill Haslam said he’s seeking input from “a lot of folks” on whether a veto is warranted for HB1840, which declares therapists could reject clients when counseling them would run counter to the therapist’s principles.

After the interview was aired, Haslam got some input from the American Counseling Association, which opposes the bill and didn’t like what he had to say.

In the NPR interview, Haslam said he had boiled his thinking down to this central question: whether therapists could truly leave their values out of their work.

On one hand, he points out that the American Counseling Association “says you should always counsel from a valueless position. In other words, you don’t put your own values into the conversation; you’re there to help.”

But, he added, “I personally wonder … regardless of whether you’re a religious person or not, everybody comes into every conversation with a particular worldview and things that you believe are right or wrong. The question is can you counsel from a totally non-value-based position?”

…Asked about the argument that therapists should have an obligation to serve everyone, Haslam said, “Lawyers don’t serve everyone. … Lawyers right now can say, ‘I’m not the person to help you on that issue; I don’t agree with what you’re trying to do’; and they can turn down that person and they can go somewhere else.”

Note: The resulting ACA press release is below
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Legislature approves bill to let therapists shun patients

By Erik Schelzig and Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee bill that would allow mental health therapists to turn away patients based on the counselors’ religious beliefs and personal principles passed Monday and is on its way to the governor.

The American Counseling Association said Tennessee would be the only state to allow counselors to refuse to treat patients if the bill is signed into law. The organization called the measure an “unprecedented attack” on its profession.

The measure is part of a wave of legislation across the country that opponents say legalizes discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Supporters say it takes into account the rights of everyone.

In February, the Senate passed the bill that could allow counselors to turn away patients based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Last week the House passed a version that would allow therapists to turn away patients based on the “sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist.”

The measure will not allow therapists to turn away people who are in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.

On Monday, the Senate agreed to the change that dropped religious beliefs and instead added the broader language of “principles.”
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Therapists’ right to reject patients moves along

The state House Health Committee advanced a controversial bill Wednesday that would allow therapists and counselors to refuse to see clients whose cases violate their principles, according to The Tennessean.

The bill (HB1840) protects the professionals from repercussions, such as a civil lawsuit or criminal action, if they opt for a referral. The Health Committee voted 11-5 in support of the legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown.

Howell launched the almost two-hour discussion on the bill with a detailed explanation of where it came from and why it’s needed. He cited a court case prompted by a Michigan counseling student’s refusal to see a client whose same-sex relationship violated her religious beliefs.

“This bill will not allow a counselor’s religious rights to be discriminated against while mandating that the counselor make an appropriate referral of the client to someone whose values and beliefs are more compatible with the client,” Howell said. “That just makes sense to me.”
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Senate votes to let religious therapists turn away gays

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Therapists and counselors in Tennessee could decline to treat patients on the basis of “sincerely held religious beliefs” under a bill passed by the state Senate on Wednesday.

Opponents argued that counselors shouldn’t be allowed to deny treatment of people in crisis because they are gay, transgender or practice a different religion. But the chamber ultimately voted 27-5 in favor of the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Jack Johnson of Franklin, who said it is aimed at being able to refer patients to “people who specialize in this.”

The bill is part of a wave of state legislative proposals to allow clergy, businesses or state officials to refuse certain services to certain people based on religious views, an after-effect of the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage.

It’s not the first time state lawmakers have tried to take a stand on counseling issues. A proposal to make Colorado the fifth state to ban gay-conversion therapy failed last year, and a renewed effort this year faces strong opposition from Republicans.
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Haslam administration reconsidering TennCare budget cut for chronic mental illness

In response to an outcry by mental-health providers and advocates, Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration says there will now be a closer look at a proposed budget cut that would eliminate Level 2 case management services for thousands of adults with chronic mental illness.

Further from the News Sentinel:

The Bureau of TennCare in the 2015-2016 state budget proposed the cut to the services, which are used by about 42,000 adults with “serious and persistent mental illness,” with the goal of keeping those recipients in the community rather than in institutions.

Level 2 case managers vary in the level of services they provide but might do welfare checks, drive clients to medical appointments or counseling, pick up and deliver refills of medication, or help clients with paperwork, grocery shopping and other activities needed to live independently.

But “a very small number of people” need that level of case management long-term, said Keith Gaither, TennCare’s director of managed care operations. Gaither said more intensive services might hinder clients’ abilities to live independently.

“The case managers are trying to help these people as much as they can,” he said. “I think sometimes they just try to keep helping them longer than they need to.”

The Bureau of TennCare recommends Level 2 case management be limited for 90 days after a crisis, which Gaither said could mean psychiatric hospitalization, a call to the mobile crisis unit, or arrest.

…Adult outpatient services is the largest item in TennCare’s budget, with half of that money going to case management, Gaither said. While he didn’t say how many of the 42,000 would no longer qualify for Level 2 case management, TennCare says it would save $30 million — about $10 million in state funds and $20 million in matching federal funds.

Advocates say compared to the cost of hospitalization or jail, case management is a bargain — and that if the higher level of services required for the care of the 42,000 Tennesseans is more than $10 million, or $250 per person, the cut could result in a net loss of revenue for the state.

Eliminating the services “will have dire consequences for many of these individuals and on the mental health care system,” said Paul Fuchcar, chair of the Tennessee Mental Health Planning & Policy Council, which advises the governor on mental health and substance abuse.

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.
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