published Saturday, July 30th, 2011

Mental health money still flows


by Chris Carroll
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    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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At the same time state officials revoked a $774,000 grant for a local mental health program in the name of fiscal responsibility, they awarded more than $4 million to a Greeneville, Tenn.-based agency.

The Greeneville agency, the East Tennessee Resource Center, received no state funding last year, records show.

On July 13, the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities decided not to allocate a grant to TEAM Centers Inc. for its diagnostic and evaluation program. The move surprised parents, who say they have nowhere else to go. The program -- TEAM's key clinical offering -- closes Aug. 12, officials have said.

The decision came from a "top-to-bottom" review of the department's contracts and expenditures geared toward fiscal conservatism and saving money, spokeswoman Missy Marshall said.

The annual $774,000 grant would have served 2,700 TEAM patients, at a cost of about $287 per patient. In comparison, Greeneville's East Tennessee Resource Center plans to use its $4.1 million for 290 patients, or $13,914 each, according to state budget documents.

"That is ridiculous," said Jennifer Bryan, whose 9-year-old autistic son Caleb has visited TEAM for the last year. "Two hundred eighty-seven dollars is chump change. Most parents would probably be willing to pay that. The state is not helping us."

The state offered a $193,000 grant to TEAM to keep the program running for three months so other revenue could be found, but officials at TEAM decided to use the money to shut down the program and give severance pay to employees. When Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities officials heard that, they withdrew the grant offer.

Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Jim Henry said the $4.1 million was allocated as part of a court settlement, a statement that could not be verified Friday. He said it was centered on the closing of a developmental facility, but gave no other details.

Asked whether TEAM parents could get the same services at the East Tennessee Resource Center, Henry responded, "I don't know. It's a totally different mission."

According to budget documents, the center is "serving persons with intellectual disabilities in East Tennessee [and] will provide access to a variety of medical and health-related services" that are hard to obtain because of a lack of private providers.

Attempts to contact officials at the center were unsuccessful Friday.

Henry said the department is deciding where to allocate the $774,000 grant, but he said it likely wouldn't be TEAM since "lots of children get treated there and children are the Department of Education's responsibility."

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concernedintn said...

Thank you for publishing more of the real story here. I hope the pressure from legislators and families will cause Comm. Henry to rethink his decision. The group is't asking for government funding to continue forever - just for one year to allow the non profit to find other revenue sources. Team has endured cut after cut and still managed to find ways to stay open - primarily at the expense of the dedicated staff in the form of decreasing benefits and "cost of living adjustment" raise freezes for years.

August 1, 2011 at 7:12 a.m.
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