Parents question TEAM leader's company

Parents question TEAM leader's company

August 9th, 2011 by Chris Carroll in News

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 /Times Free Press.

The executive who is closing the key clinical program at TEAM Centers Inc. also heads a for-profit corporation that employs speech therapists, occupational therapists and physical therapists - some of the same positions he says he's unable to fill at TEAM before he shuts down the program Thursday.

One parent whose child was treated by TEAM, a nonprofit that tests, evaluates and studies intellectually disabled Tennesseans, said she didn't know what to believe.

"It's almost like he wanted [TEAM] to die," said Sandy Lusk, whose autistic son is a patient at TEAM. "It reeks of privatization."

TEAM interim Executive Director Peter Charman did not return a detailed message requesting comment, but TEAM board President Kaye Foust characterized Charman's Employers Health Management Corp. as completely separate from TEAM.

She said its therapists "do not have the expertise to treat any people who have developmental disabilities."

"It's for sports- and work-related injuries," Foust said. "There's nothing sinister going on here."

On its most recent annual report, Charman listed the corporation's principal office address as 1000 E. Third St., Suite 100 - the same address as TEAM.

Several calls to Employers Health Management Corp. went unanswered Monday, but an answering machine message narrated by Charman said the staff was either "with patients or on the phone." The corporation does not appear to have a website.

Last month, the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities discontinued a $774,000 grant that historically funded diagnoses, evaluations and therapy at TEAM.

When the department announced the cut, officials said they would extend a $193,000 grant to allow TEAM to administer treatment through the end of September, giving executives time to track down alternative funding for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends next June.

Instead, Charman told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he planned to use the $193,000 for severance packages and "shutdown costs" for the program. He announced Aug. 12 as TEAM's closing date, saying he couldn't round up any revenue in the time allotted by the state.

State officials said that's not why they awarded the money and promptly canceled the partial grant, but later they gave in to a strong advocacy campaign from legislators and parents of TEAM's patients. Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Jim Henry last week told the Times Free Press he would reinstate the grant for a year to give TEAM time to find alternative revenue sources.

But Charman refused the money, saying the state's last-minute offer came late because too many TEAM employees already had accepted other jobs elsewhere.

Tax records show Charman made $71,737 as TEAM's interim executive director in fiscal year 2009-10, which ended last June. At the same time, Employers Health Management Corp. reported $150,000 in "annual sales," according to Dun & Bradstreet, a company that tracks businesses. The time frame for the Dun & Bradstreet report could not be verified.

In 2009-10, TEAM depended on public grants for 99.49 percent of its funding - meaning little to no actual outside fundraising - despite receiving progressively less grant money from the state in almost every year since 2005, tax records show.

Charman created Employers Health Management Corp. in 1998, state records show. He became interim executive director at TEAM last year.

Foust said it's a misconception that TEAM doesn't want the state's money, which is only reimbursed after the nonprofit provides clinical help.

"We have to find staff to provide the services," Foust said, "and we don't have them yet."

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