From Hank Hayes in Kingsport:
Tennessee Mental Health Commissioner Doug Varney says there are no quick and simple solutions to prevent a repeat of mass murderer Adam Lanza’s actions.
“The vast, vast majority of mentally ill people are not dangerous,” Varney, former president and CEO of Gray, Tenn.-based Frontier Health, said when asked for his take on the Connecticut school shootings.
Killers, Varney pointed out, have more complicated mental health issues.
“Mostly what we do is try to protect vulnerable people as opposed to being concerned about them being dangerous,” Varney explained. “Obviously someone (like Lanza) who does something like this would have to be a disturbed individual. … This isn’t scientific, but evil does exist. People do evil things. There is really no explanation to it other than it is really wrong.
“I would say that the real key is recognizing when someone is displaying odd or aggressive behavior, and approach them whether it is a teacher or counselor or pastor or family member to just go ahead and confront the person and try to get them in to get professional help. … We need to take personal responsibility to deal with people we are concerned about. … We need interventions with individuals as opposed to a broad sweep of things.”
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced an executive order to change the management and oversight of state drug court programs as part of his administration’s ongoing effort to increase government efficiency and effectiveness.
Executive Order No. 12 transfers the drug court programs from the Department of Finance and Administration (F&A) to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) effective July 1, 2012.
TDMHSAS oversees the licensing and funding for indigent Tennesseans needing substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery support services. The transfer of the drug courts to TDMHSAS will lessen duplication of effort and align with the department’s role as the substance abuse authority in the state.
“Management and oversight of Tennessee’s drug court programs are consistent with the focus of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and we believe it makes more sense for the department to manage these programs,” Haslam said.
Drug courts were established as an alternative to jails and prisons and are designed to foster recovery. For many arrested on drug-related offenses, prison is not the answer, and research has shown treatment costs are lower than costs associated with incarceration.
Drug courts refer clients to substance abuse community agencies that provide intervention and treatment services, which are funded, contracted and licensed by TDMHSAS. The department and the Office of Criminal Justice Services in F&A have had discussions about transitioning the programs and are prepared for a smooth transition.
“We are facing a major prescription drug problem in our state,” TDMHSAS Commissioner Doug Varney said. “We need to focus all of our resources in the most efficient, effective and collaborative way to maximize our impact on this issue and drug abuse overall.”
Drug court activities are also closely aligned with other programs currently overseen by TDMHSAS. For additional information about Tennessee’s drug court programs or other mental health and substance abuse programs please contact TDMHSAS’ Office of Communications at (615) 253-4812 or visit www.tn.gov/mental.
The state will pay for a “pilot project” to put ten persons suffering from “mental illness or severe emotional disturbance” into outpatient treatment instead of a psychiatric hospital under legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate.
The mental health pilot project was launched as an amendment to SB420, sponsored by Sen. Becky Massey and Rep. Ryan Haynes, both Knoxville Republicans. It follows negotiations with the state Department of Mental Health, the Helen Ross McNabb Center and others.
The measure sets up a program wherein individuals suffering mental illness and perhaps charged with a minor crime would undergo evaluation and, if need a likely candidate, go before a judge who would send them into “intensive outpatient treatment” instead an institution.
The state will provide $125,000 per year for the two-year pilot project, using money that is part of a $6.6 million shift in funding from the Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, which is closing under Haslam’s budget plan.
“I wish we were doing this statewide,” said Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, in brief Senate floor debate. He predicted the program will be successful in Knox County and eventually expanded statewide.
Overbey said he and former Sen. Tim Burchett, now Knox County mayor, began pushing similar legislation six years ago without success, mostly due to a lack of state funding. He said 46 other states already have “some form of assisted outpatient treatment.”
The bill passed the House unanimously. It is on schedule to pass the House next week.
The bill intended to strengthen enforcement of beer and liquor licensing laws has bounced back and forth between the House and Senate for three weeks as lawmakers debated what counties should be included in the pilot project.
The final version of HB3633 includes Knox, Hamilton, Cocke, Claiborne, Grainger, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson and Union. With the House signing off on the latest Senate changes, the bill now goes to the governor.
The bill makes several changes in laws governing local beer boards, which issues licenses and enforces laws dealing with beer sales, and the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which issues licenses and enforces laws dealing with the sale of liquor and wine. The changes take effect on July 1 in the pilot project counties only and will continue for two years.
In general, the idea is to make the two agencies coordinate their efforts, said House sponsor Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga. In the past, a local beer board has occasionally suspended the license of an establishment violations, but the business – typically a bar — remained open because the ABC license remained – or vice versa.
Examples of other changes include provisions intended to block the practice of a bar operator closing after being charged with law violations, then having the establishment reopen immediately in the same location under a new name or new ownership; and a ban on operators charged with breaking the law voluntarily surrendering their license – a move that allows them to later receive a new license with no violation on their record.
The Senate approved 29-0 Wednesday the “Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act,” which declares students will suffer no penalties for expression their religious views in doing their homework or participating in other school activities.
During floor debate, sponsor Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, was questioned on whether the measure would “blur the line between church and state.”
“Isn’t this trying to make our public schools more like Sunday schools?” asked Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis.
Roberts said that was not the case. To illustrate a situation where the bill would apply, he cited a student assigned to write an essay on “the decline of America” choosing to address religious decline rather than economic or military decline, then writing about Israel of Biblical times faltering as it “moved away from God.”
The law would assure the youth was grade on the basis of writing, punctuation and such without regard to the religious subject matter.
That inspired Massey to recall that, as a student, she once wrote an English term paper “on the humanity of Jesus.”
The bill (SB3632) awaits a House floor vote.
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.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to change the name of the state Department of Mental Health has passed the Senate.
The measure sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville was approved 31-0 on Monday evening.
The legislation adds “Substance Abuse Services” to the department’s name.
The companion bill is being scheduled for a vote on the House floor.
Read SB2229 at http://capitol.tn.gov .
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal appeals court has ruled that a Tennessee death row inmate’s mental disability claims weren’t properly considered.
Byron Black was sentenced to death after his 1989 Nashville conviction in the murder of his girlfriend Angela Clay and her daughters, ages 9 and 6.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled Thursday that the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals didn’t properly evaluate whether Black, who is 55, had a mental disability, according to The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/uOzU5K).
The U.S. and Tennessee supreme courts have ruled that executing mentally disabled people violates a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Kelley Henry of the federal public defender’s office declined comment. Sharon Curtis-Flair of the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office said the appellate court ruling is being reviewed.
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.