published Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Parents lobby hard to keep TEAM open

by Chris Carroll
The TEAM Centers Inc. is a private nonprofit organization with an office at 1000 Third St. in Chattanooga that handles evaluation and assessment of people with developmental disabilities.
The TEAM Centers Inc. is a private nonprofit organization with an office at 1000 Third St. in Chattanooga that handles evaluation and assessment of people with developmental disabilities.
Photo by Alex Washburn.
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Andy Berke's letter to DIDD
Andy Berke's letter to DIDD

With less than two weeks before the state pulls grant money for a clinical program that serves 2,700 developmentally disabled Tennesseans, advocates have organized an 11th-hour effort to save it.

Geared toward supporting TEAM Centers Inc., parents last weekend fired off numerous emails to reporters and state lawmakers, asking for help in a situation they say gets more urgent as Aug. 12 nears -- the day TEAM officials have designated as the program's last.

"At this point, we have nothing to lose," said Signal Mountain resident Sandy Lusk, whose 14-year-old autistic son Kyle receives regular help from TEAM.

Last month, the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities announced that a $774,000 grant, long awarded by the state for diagnosis and evaluation at TEAM, would end. Parents were outraged.

The letters written this weekend hammer the state on a few points, mostly focusing on how Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Jim Henry never announced a backup plan for affected patients, failed to notify local legislators of the cuts and gave TEAM Centers only three months to raise $774,000 after telling the clinic that the grant was not coming.

"We're stressed because you'd think he'd be an advocate for us," said Lusk. "We're up against a brick wall with somebody who doesn't listen to the special-needs community."

Attempts to reach Henry were unsuccessful Monday.

Last week, Henry told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that children, who constitute the bulk of TEAM's patients, are not his department's responsibility and fall under the Department of Education's.

State law appears to say otherwise.

Under the heading "Responsibilities for department" it states: "The [Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities] serves as the state's mental health and developmental disabilities authority and is responsible for system planning, setting policy and quality standards, system monitoring and evaluation ... for persons of all ages who have mental illness, serious emotional disturbance, or developmental disabilities."

The state offered a $193,000 grant to TEAM to keep the program running for three months so other source of operating money could be found, but officials at TEAM decided to spend grant on severance packages and other "shutdown costs." When state officials were informed of those plans, they withdrew the grant offer.

But parents have united on what they feel is a realistic goal -- asking legislators to lobby for funding for the current fiscal year, which began July 1, so they can organize and find alternate revenue sources. It's unclear how TEAM would function at this point, given that at least five senior staffers at TEAM were hired last month by the Center for Pediatric Therapy, a Chattanooga-based special-needs operation.

State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, is among several lawmakers who've written letters to Henry or otherwise inquired about the situation.

"At least as of the moment, I've not received a response," Berke said in a phone interview Monday. "We're up against the wall in terms of time. These parents are going to be dealing with problems long after Aug. 12.

"My hope is we're waiting because [the department] is reassessing or looking at real alternatives."

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at or 423-757-6610.

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sandyonsignal said...

How did someone who is indifferent and heartless get put in charge of DIDDS? How did someone get put in charge who doesn't value children and families?

This is an outrage. Commissioner Henry has caused a detriment to our community that will take years or a decade to undo. Is this the kind of government people want? Is this the kind of community you want? Autism rates are soaring in 1997 the rate was 1 in 2500 today it is 1 in 100. If you don't know some child with autism, you will soon enough. We need more help here not everything taken away from us.

August 2, 2011 at 5:56 a.m.
riverstronghold said...

Hope is good, but leadership would be a better thing for Senator Berke to demonstrate that he has.

Standing up and talking is good, and sitting down and solving will show the strength and power of his hope.

Our other local State legislators need not think they are not being counted upon -- and counted -- as well. They will be thanked and rewarded by and for their actions as well -- please step up and show you are made of compassion, courage, and creative problem solving like you were believed in and elected to demonstrate.

August 2, 2011 at 6:24 a.m.
sandyonsignal said...

Sen. Berke has shown the most leadership in this horrible ordeal. He started working on this the week of July 20th when all this went down. Others were kind of clueless on the matter, but are now on board. He has also responded to all of us who wrote him concerning the closing of Team. Many families posted his response to their letters on the Facebook page "keep Team Center open".

All of our delegation from the southeast are working hard to help Team stay open. Commissioner Henry is the one who caused all these problems.

August 2, 2011 at 7:16 a.m.
Blassmike said...

What letters will not do,a personal prensense might. Maybe it is time for Commissioner Henry to see us in numbers..led by Sen. Burke for admittance!

August 2, 2011 at 7:53 a.m.
dwille1795 said...

It is my understanding, after contacting the new facility, they accept TN Care, as well as other Blue Cross Blue Shield networks, and other private carriers as well.

August 2, 2011 at 8:19 a.m.
OutLoudVoice said...

I work for a company that provides government funded in home health care for many different disabilities, both mental and physical. These clients range from slight to severe levels of disability. We go to their homes and take care of them, some even have round the clock care provided by the government even though they live with family. This sickens me for several reasons. The system that is providing this money is not looking into what can be done by the family members to care of these home cared for individuals. They insist they can do nothing for the client however they can spend the check they get for them, go on vacation, work in their yards, drive cars, host dinner parties and live their lives as usual only they have a PA for the disabled individual so that THEY can live as they do. All this paid for by our wonderful government. NOW my point is THIS. IF our great state and government would look into the ABUSE of some of these agencies and families then there would be more than enough grant money and government funding to keep places such as this open. These clients just want somewhere to go, to fit in and be with other persons such as themselves. THEIR parents take an active role in there rehabilitation and conditioning to the outside world, where as the MILLIONS of dollars are handed over for another set of disabled persons to have a round the clock babysitter or glorified maid. There needs to be more investigation into the individual households getting the funding that they don’t really need, and push some of that money into the hands of people like TEAM whose clients families are actually TRYING. Keith Kare has a client with an individual PA and all she does is watch the client play video games. Another one of their clients has round the clock care however the third shift worker is a family member that sleeps all through the shift. This is just a few examples. BUT the government allows this company to continue getting funding yet they want to take the funding from the ones that are trying. It is ridiculous and things need to change so that we can keep good programs like TEAM alive.

August 2, 2011 at 3:56 p.m.
sandyonsignal said...

Pediatric Therapy cannot do what Team does. First, there is no Dr. Rubin or any developmental pediatrician. I don't use Team's people that moved over to the new center. Never have. There are plenty of good Speech and occupational therapists in this town, but there is only one autism expert like Dr. Rubin.

One thing is for sure, I am never taking my son to Center for Pediatric Therapy after the owner maligned our group. She is seeking opportunities from other's grief. This is just what we don't need.

August 2, 2011 at 4:15 p.m.
tdennis239 said...

My heart goes out to all parents of disabled children. However, many of you who are vigorously protesting TEAM's closure probably voted for both Gov. Haslem and Republican members of Hamilton Co.'s legislative delegation. What did you expect would happen? These people promised that when they arrived in Nashville they would slash the state budget. Why would you think these people would spare your favorite program? Elections do have consequences. For you parents who voted for Democrat candidates, and as we are oft reminded by our Republican friends, Democrats are usually proponents of social programs such as TEAM, I am particularly sorry. You and your children did nothing to deserve the loss of this critical service. As Republicans continue to gain ground, I fear you will experience more, not less, denial of services for your children

Tricia Dennis

August 2, 2011 at 7:48 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

I guess it's a good thing we're kicking all those freeloading autistic kids to the curb so that they can get jobs and pay for their own healthcare. Another genius public policy decision from Governor Haslam and the GOP crew. Perhaps we can go back to some 19th Century imprisonment asylums as a budget compromise the GOP would accept. What kind of dirtbag pulls the plug on funds for autistic kids?

Has anyone figured out if someone's cashing in on the real estate of the building this center is in? It's apparently in prime spot across the street from Erlanger. Acting like a selfish idiot to make money off of land later is exactly the kind of sociopathic behaviour habitually demonstrated by local Republican lawmakers. Which one of them will profit from this?

August 2, 2011 at 11:17 p.m.
concernedintn said...

TEAM does not own the building, they lease it from an unrelated, unconnected individual who owns the building. I would imagine that they have to break the lease. I would also imagine that breaking the lease will be an expensive act. Perhaps that is one of the many "shutdown costs" incurred by closing the center.

August 3, 2011 at 8:27 a.m.
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