Tag Archives: disabilities

On TN’s only state legislator confined to a wheelchair

State Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Nashville, talks about the 1990 traffic accident that led to him becoming the only member of the state Legislature who must use a wheelchair in a Tennessean article. An excerpt:

Just a few days ago, state Rep. Jernigan won re-election to the state legislature, where he is the only member who uses a wheelchair. He won a pretty close election in a hotly contested race against the Republican he took the seat from two years ago.

But that’s nothing.

Jernigan knows something about adversity.

When Jernigan regained consciousness after the crash, only his buddy, Frye, was also awake. The two girls were knocked out.

The girl driving had blown through a stop sign going around 45 mph before smashing into the embankment, Jernigan said.

Jernigan found himself on the floorboard between the front seats, and pain was shooting through his neck.

So he tried to move his neck, but he couldn’t: “The pain is excruciating,” he said.

Jernigan practically begged his buddy to help him move his neck, offered him the $78 in his wallet. But Frye had his own issues: His back was broken, his left arm and leg were both shattered, and he later needed 18 hours of plastic surgery on his face.

…Just a few weeks earlier, the onetime star tight end for the Hunters Lane football team was a 6-foot-2-inch, 190-pound fraternity brother who was having fun chasing girls.

And now, it was taking him 10 minutes to button one button on his shirt.

Jernigan had to learn how to do things such as get out of bed, brush his teeth, get into his electronic wheelchair, feed himself and go to the bathroom, all with, essentially, one good arm and hand.

“I’d get so frustrated. Earlier you’re an athlete, and now …,” he said, adding that he eventually had to make a choice.

“Some people can’t handle it and they choose to stay at home, to live off Social Security. I’m not saying it’s wrong, just that it’s a choice,” he said.

“And I choose to believe I’m more than the broken body people see.”

Governor gets task force report on employment of the disabled

News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the completion of the Employment First Task Force report that outlines the steps the task force will take to expand integrated, competitive employment for people with disabilities as well as progress the group has already made.

Formed last year when the governor signed Executive Order No. 28, the task force is comprised of state agencies, families, consumer advocates and service providers, and it seeks to eliminate obstacles to employment for persons with disabilities and better leverage funds to increase opportunities.

“By bringing everyone together we can work to remove any barriers to employment and use tax dollars more effectively to improve services,” Haslam said. “We’re pleased to see what progress Tennessee has made in just one year when all stakeholders collaborate and bring ideas to the table.”
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Top officials at Clover Bottom Developmental Center fired

The two top officials at Clover Bottom Developmental Center were fired Thursday and a third person contracted to provide behavioral services also was dismissed, reports The Tennessean.

The terminations follow a Tennessean story on Sunday that chronicled ongoing health and safety problems faced by the remaining 40 residents at Tennessee’s oldest institution for people with intellectual disabilities — more than four years after state officials pledged to shut it down. The Tennessean also reported on the high cost borne by taxpayers as a result of the delay in closing the institution. Tennessee taxpayers next year will foot the bill for what could be the nation’s costliest institutional care — more than half a million dollars per person living at Clover Bottom — to care for a small number of residents who have waited for years to be relocated into residential homes from a sprawling campus built to house 1,500.

Those affected by Thursday’s terminations were Chief Officer Stacey Dixon, who oversaw operations at the 90-year-old Donelson facility; Darla Goad, director of residential and case management services; and Jennifer Bruzek, who state officials said was a contract employee through Columbus, a behavioral services agency. The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities has asked Columbus for a different behavioral analyst, spokeswoman Cara Kumari said.

DIDD officials did not comment on the reasons behind the dismissals beyond a statement that read: “This restructuring will align our staffing with those in the other regions, dedicating one person to oversight of Clover Bottom and the new Middle Tennessee Homes while also dedicating an administrator specific to the Harold Jordan Center.

On closing Clover Bottom Developmental Center

The Tennessean has a review of state plans to finally close Clover Bottom Development Center, including some sad situations impacting individuals. An excerpt:

Four years after pledging to shut it down, state officials with the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities have yet to shutter Clover Bottom, the 90-year-old institution created in an earlier era when people with autism and other disabilities were sent to large state institutions at young ages to live out their days.

Forty longtime residents still live on the aging Donelson campus that once housed more than 1,500. Some have lived at the facility for decades, waiting for the state to deliver on its long-delayed promise to move them into homes in residential neighborhoods. Thousands of people with disabilities across the country have left state facilities as part of a national deinstitutionalization movement intended to improve quality of life andreduce costs.

Most residents were found as far back as 1997 to belong someplace else — residential homes or small-scale intermediate-care facilities that could care for their complex medical needs while integrating them into the community. In 2009, then-Gov. Phil Bredesen said they would move by 2010. Officials now say the last resident won’t leave until May 2015.

Frist differs with Alexander, Corker on disabilities treaty

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist said Monday that he disagrees with decisions by the state’s current senators not to support a United Nations treaty on disability rights, reports The Tennessean.

Frist said U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander are wrong to oppose the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities because it will not conflict with United States law, including the 1990 Americans with Disability Act. Frist said the treaty is “non-self-executing,” meaning it cannot create a legal cause of action or be the basis of a lawsuit.

The treaty fell six votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for ratification a year ago, but supporters have continued to push for its passage.

“Voting no to this treaty is saying that we do not think the global community deserves an ADA of their own,” Frist said. “U.S. leadership matters. We should be at the table.”

Corker has been seen as an especially influential vote because he is the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which held two hearings on the pact in November. But he and Alexander, a fellow Republican, said Friday they had not changed their minds about the treaty.

Note: Below are news releases from Alexander and Corker on the treaty, both dated Dec. 20.
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Arlington Developmental Center lawsuit settled after 21 years

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed over conditions at the Arlington Developmental Center, ending the 21-year legal fight over the center for the developmentally disabled.

U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton had previously announced an agreement outlining steps the state would take to help former patients of the center, located in the Memphis suburb of Arlington. The federal government filed legal action in 1992 over abuse and mistreatment of people confined there. The state closed the center in 2010.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s office says U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla approved the plan and dismissed the lawsuit Wednesday.

The agreement requires the state to expand community-based services, help former patients now in nursing homes to move into community settings and demolish the former residential cottages on the Arlington campus.

Note: A news release on the lawsuit settlement is below.
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DIDD computer finally fixed (almost, maybe)

If everything goes according to schedule, a new computer system will go online next year for tracking the services Tennessee provides to people with disabilities, according to WPLN. But it’s twenty years overdue.

On its website, the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities has a video (HERE) in which Deputy Commissioner Lance Iverson touts what’s being called Project Titan. His message to service providers, family members and department staff is that the new computer system will be a huge change for the better. And that it really will exist.

“Many of you have heard this story before and you might be watching this video while rolling your eyes and shaking your head. I understand why you’re skeptical. We’ve said this six times before and nothing’s changed.”

The current software dates back to 1994. It was intended to be a stopgap, thrown together so state workers could perform one month’s worth of billing before something more permanent was put in place. Instead, the temporary solution was patched–new bits of code have been added here, additional features cobbled in there.

Efforts to replace the system entirely repeatedly sputtered out. One project was killed because the department’s IT department wasn’t up to the task. A contract to have an outside company fix the problem was cancelled after missed deadlines. A recent audit from the state comptroller’s office found that more than 4 million dollars was spent on the failed attempts.

The department started all over again last year. It expects to have the new system finally up and running in full by late summer.

DIDD budget hearing: No improvements, maybe more cuts

On the heels of an audit critical of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities for not providing adequate services to people in its care, agency officials on Wednesday presented a budget plan for next year that could cut services even more.

Further from The Tennessean:

Department head Debra Payne outlined what a $15 million cut in state funds would look like for an agency that serves 8,000 state residents and has an additional 7,100 people on a waiting list for services. Cuts could include ending services to families caring for adults with disabilities at home and downsizing a program that investigates abuse and neglect.

The budget plan is preliminary, part of a series of provisional 5 percent budget reduction plans presented by all state agencies at the governor’s request.

Regardless of whether Gov. Bill Haslam ultimately cuts existing services, the proposed budget made clear that department officials have no immediate plans to provide services to thousands of state residents with developmental disabilities. It’s a population that includes people with spina bifida, cerebral palsy and other disabilities who currently have no agency programs or funding designated to aid them — despite a state law requiring DIDD to provide such assistance.

DIDD officials say steps taken to improve handling of alleged abuse

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State disability officials told legislators Wednesday that they are taking steps to improve the way cases involving abuse allegations are handled.

Commissioner Debbie Payne of the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities told a legislative subcommittee that a policy has been instituted to prohibit one person from overturning the results of internal investigations. Instead, the responsibility will be handed over to an investigations review committee.

The new policy was instituted in the wake of an audit by the state comptroller’s office that was critical of the way two deaths were handled. The audit said there were substantiated allegations of wrongdoing involving employees of a service provider.

However, the then-deputy commissioner overturned the findings of the internal investigation, and the contract provider was never held accountable.

“We take very seriously allegations of abuse … and have taken some very strong assertive actions to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Payne said.

The department serves more than 8,000 people, many of whom live in state institutions or community settings. About 7,200 are on a waiting list for services, said officials, adding that they just don’t have the money to provide services to all who need them.

The audit said that unless the state finds a sufficient funding solution, “the high number of individuals … on the waiting list for Medicaid services will continue to plague the department.”

Jim Henry preceded Payne as commissioner and said part of the funding problem is simply a result of the economic downturn over the last several years.

“We’ve been involved in a national recession since 2008,” said Henry, now the commissioner of the state Department of Children’s Services. “We were trying to shelter the programs we had.”

Note: Documents provided late Tuesday by DIDD indicate one of the two deaths came by the disabled person choking while eating a burrito. The other involved death of a youngster with questions raised over medication taken.

Audit: DIDD deputy overturned findings of misconduct in two deaths

News release from state comptroller’s office:
The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) must remedy serious problems in its service recipient safety practices, service delivery system, and information system implementation efforts, according to a report released today by the Comptroller’s office.

The department provides services directly to recipients or indirectly through contracts with community providers in a variety of settings, ranging from institutional care to individual supported living in the community. DIDD was serving 8,096 individuals as of May 31 of this year.

Among other findings, state auditors reported that:

· DIDD’s former deputy commissioner of the Office of Policy and Innovation improperly assumed authority to overturn two substantiated allegations of misconduct against provider employees and therefore did not intend to hold the provider accountable for service recipient deaths;

· The department did not establish appropriate safeguards to govern the background checks of DIDD employees, volunteers, or provider employees. That deficiency resulted in employees beginning work before background checks were completed, volunteers who had no background checks performed, and provider employees with disqualifying drug convictions that went undetected;

· DIDD was not providing adequate services for individuals with developmental disabilities in violation of statutory requirements and its own mission statement;

· Until top state officials find a sufficient funding solution, the high number of individuals with intellectual disabilities on the waiting list for Medicaid services will continue to plague the department; and

· Since 1994, DIDD has spent at least $4.3 million to replace its outdated information system with little to show for the expense. DIDD has estimated that it will spend another $11.8 million to complete the project.

“DIDD serves some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “Therefore, the department must do its utmost to ensure the safety of each individual served and to enhance the quality of life of all Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

Auditors will present their findings at a meeting of the General Assembly’s Government Operations Joint Subcommittee on Education, Health and General Welfare on October 23. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in Hearing Room 16 at Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville.

Note: The full audit — 155 pages with multiple findings — is HERE.