The state would put the property that was once home to Lakeshore Mental Health Institute up for sale to the highest bidder rather than transfer it to the city of Knoxville under legislation proposed by two Knoxville legislators.
The bill filed by Sen. Stacey Campfield and Rep. Steve Hall, both Republicans, was sharply criticized Thursday by Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and former Mayor Victor Ashe. Both said a sale of the park could jeopardize the current city park located on adjoining land, and prevent its expansion.
A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam, also a former Knoxville mayor, indicated the governor backs Rogero’s view and opposes the proposal.
Campfield said it makes sense to have the state sell the land at fair market value and use the money to benefit mental health.
“I don’t think we need another park… a monument to someone’s vanity,” said Campfield. “We do need money for mental health.”
The bill as filed (SB1243) does not earmark funds received from sale of about 60 acres owned by the state to mental health, but Campfield said that is his intention and the bill can be amended to do so. He also said Knoxville can be given right to buy the land from the state at full market value.
“Let them (state officials) subdivide it up, put it out for bids, see what it’s worth and offer it to the city at that price,” said Campfield in an interview. “That would bring in a ton of money for mental health, where we have been cutting back year after year.”
Optionally, if the land goes to a private developer, it would generate property tax dollars for the city and county, Campfield said.
Rogero and Haslam have been negotiating a transfer of the land to the city. The present park is on Lakeshore land transferred to the city in 1999. Rogero said in a statement the proposed new transfer ties into a “longstanding agreement with the state” that “will protect the land as a public asset for generations to come.”
David Smith, spokesman for Haslam, sent a reporter a copy of Rogero’s statement and said in an email, “The state has a longstanding agreement with the city, and the governor believes we should continue with that agreement.”
“Selling the land would be a windfall to some land developer and harm the existing park,” said Ashe in a statement.
Employees at Taft Youth Development Center soon will be getting 90-day termination notices in anticipation that the new state budget won’t have any funding for the Bledsoe County facility, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Department of Children’s Services spokeswoman Molly Sudderth said Friday that officials have met with Taft staff pending the release of the notices to about 150 employees remaining at the center in Pikeville, Tenn., that holds some of the state’s toughest young offenders. A new prison for adults — Bledsoe County Corrections Complex — has been built within eyeshot of Taft, and some Taft employees could get jobs there, she said.
“There is an administration amendment to the budget that, if the budget passes, then the Department of Correction would have the money to employ 168 people for the Bledsoe County Corrections Complex beginning July 1,” Sudderth said.
Hiring at the new prison will be accelerated if Taft is closed, she said. The prison is expected to create up to 400 jobs, officials have said. State inmates will be moved into the new state prison in early 2013. Passage of a Taft-less budget would shutter the 90-year-old facility on July 1, Sudderth said. Meanwhile, in Mental Health...
Facing expected closure this summer by the state Department of Mental Health, some 60 employees of Lakeshore Mental Health Institute already have left for other jobs, according to the News Sentinel. The remaining 314 on Monday will receive notice that their jobs will be terminated in 90 days, with the countdown to start April 1. Tennessee Department of Mental Health Director of Communications Grant Lawrence said the notice is to comply with labor law, contingent on the General Assembly’s approval of the department’s plan that includes closing the facility June 30, with “limited staff” still present.
“We don’t want to overstep the boundaries of the General Assembly,” Lawrence said, “but we have to comply with” the 90-day notice policy. He said the state’s human resources department has been working out severance packages for remaining employees, though he didn’t have details.
Job fairs at Lakeshore have connected potential employers with Lakeshore staff as well. Mental Health Commissioner Douglas Varney in November announced his plan to overhaul East Tennessee’s mental health support system.
Kristi Nelson has reports on Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans to close Lakeshore Mental Health Institute at Knoxville, one beginning with the observation that the Legislature seems likely to accept the new arrangement and the other on legislator questioning about a “black list” of Lakeshore patients deemed too “challenging” for the private hospitals that will take over care of most state-paid patients.
Excerpt from the latter report: At a Feb. 8 state House committee meeting, Knoxville Reps. Steve Hall and Joe Armstrong both asked Commissioner of Mental Health Douglas Varney about a “blacklist” that allegedly allowed local psychiatrist hospitals to turn away certain patients — patients, Armstrong said, Lakeshore Mental Health Institute has filled the “role” of taking in the past.
“Effectively, we have not gotten rid of that ‘blacklist'” with the contracts that are currently in place, Armstrong said, echoing concerns advocates, families and Lakeshore employees have voiced at various public meetings
. “We’ve had multiple meetings talking about issues like blacklisting,” Varney told committee members, adding that “admissions policies” will be addressed in the new contracts with providers.
Varney said he envisioned beds at Middle Tennessee State Mental Health Institute in Nashville, where patients will be sent if local providers can’t handle them, as a “safety valve” for patients who meet very specific criteria — not as a dumping ground.
Tony Spezia, CEO of Covenant Health, which owns Peninsula, said it has been taking “more challenging patients” all along. “We’ve essentially been seeing Lakeshore patients for a number of years,” as the state facility has downsized, Spezia said. “Our admissions have been three times what Lakeshore’s are.”
Gov. Bill Haslam defended his plans for closing Taft Youth Center and Lakeshore Mental Health Institute in a Chattanooga speech, according the Times-Free Press. “Everybody says government is too big and you should cut it and run it like a business. But every time you make one of these decisions to cut some service, some people don’t like it.”
Haslam said the state’s five youth development centers across Tennessee are only about 70 percent full.
“I think it’s more economical for the state to have four centers that are about 90 percent full,” he said. “That will save us four to five million dollars a year.”
The job losses from the Taft center closing will be offset, at least for some workers, by a new state prison being built in Bledsoe County, Haslam said.
The governor said he also is getting criticism for proposing the shutdown of the Lakeshore Mental Health Institute in Knoxville less than a mile from his home. The center has 390 employees and houses 90 patients.
“We’re very confident that community providers can take care of those folks cheaper than what we’re doing,” Haslam said.
reports Mike Donila, So now they want to make sure the money used to operate the aging facility stays in East Tennessee. “Is it a done deal? No, nothing is until the Legislature approves it, but I think we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think that it’s on its way,” said state Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville. “My big concern is to make sure the money stays here. There’s nothing in the code that says it has to.”
Haynes, the chairman of the Knox County Legislative Delegation, said he will introduce a proposal in mid-January that, if approved, would ensure that the state money allocated to Lakeshore goes to area programs, something Gov. Bill Haslam said would be the case. Haynes, though, is concerned that “when the next administration comes in I want people to remember that the money has been earmarked for East Tennessee.”
County commissioners on Monday agreed with the state lawmaker and also unanimously approved a resolution to ask the local delegation to see whether it could convince the state to hold off on closing the operation. Officials also said they wanted a detailed copy of whatever plan the state wants to implement
From the News Sentinel’s Mike Donila:
Tennessee Department of Mental Health Commissioner Douglas Varney told county leaders Wednesday if the state closes Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, it would reinvest $20 million in the region and patients would not be dumped onto the streets. In an hour-long meeting with the administration and the Knox County Commission, Varney detailed his proposal to close the Lyons View Pike Center. The idea, he said, would be to help more people with the money the state currently spends on the 2,200 who pass through Lakeshore’s doors. Under the plan, which would need the General Assembly’s approval, Lakeshore would close by the end of June.
Officials would give the facility’s 350 employees each a $3,200 severance package and two years support for college. Varney said he expects most doctors and nurses to find positions at area mental health providers, and the state would help others find jobs at local agencies and state-run facilities.
From the News Sentinel:
Gov. Bill Haslam indicated Tuesday he is inclined to push ahead with a proposal to close Lakeshore Mental Health Institute — a day after Knox County commissioners said they would ask state officials to step in and keep the facility’s doors open.
Haslam told the News Sentinel the proposal made by state Department of Mental Health Commissioner Douglas Varney in mid-November was part of a “top-to-bottom review” of his department, which the governor ordered all commissioners to conduct.
Haslam said the final decision to proceed with closing the Lyons View Pike center will be made “in four weeks or so,” and he left the impression he would follow Varney’s recommendation.
“From everything I understand, I think this is the right approach to take,” he said. “The question is: Can we help more people more effectively? It seems to me that we can.”
The Knox County Commission has decided to ask a number of state leaders, including Gov. Bill Haslam, to delay closing Lakeshore Mental Health Institute for at least two years, reports the News Sentinel. They also agreed to seek a meeting with Mental Health Commissioner Douglas Varney, who some said has not returned their calls.. The commissioners unanimously backed the proposal at Monday’s work session, with an official vote to come next week.
Officials said they are concerned the community doesn’t have enough programs to serve many of the patients who end up at Lakeshore. They also said they expect a rise of mentally ill in the homeless and jailed populations if Lakeshore closes.
State Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, commended the commission and said he’d look into what could be done. He said a complete shutdown could create an “additional burden and additional costs” to city and county coffers.
Meanwhile, the commission also agreed to send a letter to the local legislative delegation requesting that members oppose any proposed changes that would weaken the state’s Open Meetings Act. They’ll further discuss the measure during next Monday’s regular meeting.
If Lakeshore Mental Health Institute closes, it won’t close quietly, says the News Sentinel. “I will kick and scream all the way to the end,” Knox County Commissioner Jeff Ownby told a group of about 150 people Wednesday evening at West High School.
Ownby, whose wife and sister-in-law are longtime Lakeshore employees, called the forum to let local elected officials “hear the concerns” of Lakeshore employees, family members of patients, advocates and “concerned citizens.” About 10 other city, county and state elected officials attended, though only state Sen. Stacey Campfield and County Commissioner Amy Broyles spoke, both encouraging people to share concerns with Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Mental Health Commissioner Douglas Varney.
Varney announced Nov. 11 that he wants to close the aging mental health institute by the end of the fiscal year, as part of a plan to outsource mental health care to private inpatient facilities and community-based program.