Tag Archives: mental

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

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?’”

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.”
Continue reading

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.”
Continue reading

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.

State plans closing of Greene Valley Developmental Center

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State officials have agreed to close a large facility in East Tennessee that houses mentally disabled people, but local officials say they will argue to keep it open.

The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities has submitted a plan to shut down Greene Valley Developmental Center by next June and move its nearly 100 residents into more home-like settings. According to media, the move would end a lawsuit filed against the state in 1995 over its care of mentally disabled people.

Tennessee Disability Coalition assistant director Donna DeStefano said the organization has pushed for more than two decades for people with intellectual disabilities to be moved into more community-like settings.

“People with all types of disabilities belong in the community with family and friends,” she said. “In institutions, staff are paid to be there. What happens is that everybody the person with disabilities knows is paid to be there. That’s an unequal relationship. In the community, it can be more equalized.”

Some in Greene County object to the proposal because they say the facility cares well for its residents, and it would put 600 people out of work.

“The concern of Greene Valley and Greene County communities is about the welfare of the residents currently living in Greene Valley,” said Rep. David Hawk, a Republican from Greeneville. “These residents are the most medically and mentally fragile Tennesseans. It’s going to be difficult to find care for those individuals outside the setting of Greene Valley.”

Family members “do not want their loved ones to leave,” he said.

A federal judge must decide whether to approve the plan. A hearing in the case is set for Jan. 21 in Nashville.

State Opens First ‘Recovery Court’ for Prisoners

Next month, in the quiet Morgan County city of Wartburg, the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, along with the Tennessee Department of Correction, will open what the state says is the nation’s first statewide residential Recovery Court, reports the News Sentinel.
The 24-hour, 100-bed facility, which opens its doors Aug. 1, will allow the state to divert people with substance abuse or mental health issues from prison beds, with the hope of halting the cycle of hospitalization, incarceration and homelessness that plagues many.
In a November budget hearing meeting with Gov. Bill Haslam, Mental Health Commissioner Doug Varney laid out such a plan as being a humane and cost-effective way to deal with what he sees as one of the state’s biggest problems. In 2011, he told Haslam, for the first time ever, the state saw more people seeking treatment for narcotics addiction than for alcoholism — and the state’s system was sorely taxed.
“A large number of people in jails … their core problem is really drug abuse,” he said. Such an intensive program could “change their (lives) before they ever get that far.”
TDOC estimates the average daily cost to house a prison inmate at just more than $67. The Recovery Court residential program, even being more service-intensive than existing programs, will cost an average of $35 per person per day, the state said. But it also will, in theory, save money by reducing recidivism — “repeat offenders” — by using “evidence-based” programs “proven to have a larger impact on reducing recidivism.”
The state said studies have shown the recidivism rate for people who participate in such programs is one-third that of those who don’t.
However, it should not been taken as the state going “soft on crime,” TDOC Commissioner Derek Schofield said.
“What it says is that we’re going to place people in the best option to ensure they don’t re-offend. But also, we’re going to make sure we have a prison bed available for people who commit violent offenses that harm our communities,” he said.

Five Mental Health Institute Workers Fired Amid Patient Abuse Allegations

Five former state employees have been accused of abusing patients at Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute and the TBI is investigating, according to WSMV-TV.
“If those vulnerable patients are being mistreated by state employees, harmed or injured, we need action,” said State Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville.
…The five former employees (not named in the report) are accused of abusing two patients, one of them confirmed by the I-Team to be Matthew McDougal of Brentwood.
The termination records read that in two separate instances, once in April, and another in May, employees inflicted bodily injuries on McDougal and the other patient.
The reported abuse occurred in the forensic services program, where some of the most at-risk patients are located.
“If a patient is abused in that situation, there’s a failure of the system,” said Jeff Fladen, with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
A spokeswoman for the TBI confirms on May 23, some 22 days after the last reported abuse, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health, which oversees the institute, asked the TBI to investigate.
The five employees were then fired the next month.

Bill Lets Mental Health Professionals Report Violence Prone People

The state Senate approved a bill Thursday that would require mental health professionals to report potential threats to law enforcement, reports The Tennessean. Supporters say the move could head off mass shootings.
Senate Bill 789 passed unanimously as lawmakers found little reason to debate a measure that tightens reporting requirements for mental health workers and the courts. The bill is part of a push — backed by gun-rights proponents and gun-control advocates alike — to change mental health laws in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December.
“Mass violence of any sort is a tragic occurrence. But the worst tragedy results when the state overreacts to a mass shooting by restricting the Second Amendment rights of the law-abiding,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said in a prepared statement praising the measure. “This bill focuses not on inanimate objects but on the very real issue of mental health. …
“By focusing on the mentally ill, we will focus on those who should not have weapons while leaving the law-abiding gun owner free to exercise his God-given constitutional right.”
The Tennessee Psychological Association supports the bill. Mark Greene, a lobbyist for the group, said it clarifies that when clients make threats to harm or kill, the police must be told, in addition to potential victims.

Bill Calls for Sale of Lakeshore Land Instead of Giving It to Knoxville

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.