Tennessee mental health cuts shutter Chattanooga treatment program

Tennessee mental health cuts shutter Chattanooga treatment program

July 20th, 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.

Thousands of developmentally disabled Tennesseans must fend for themselves starting Aug. 12, when a local treatment center will stop admitting patients after losing a crucial state grant that funded clinical care for decades.

Chattanooga's TEAM Centers Inc. office has notified 22 employees -- including three clinical psychologists, two social workers and a developmental pediatrician -- they will be laid off effective Aug. 15, according to two people close to the situation.

The shutdown is a byproduct of state lawmakers' budget cuts, which will leave those who suffer from mental disabilities, autism and cerebral palsy without a formerly reliable option, a TEAM executive said.

"That's the unfortunate part of this whole thing," said Interim Executive Director Peter Charman, who will keep his job at the nonprofit. "This population has always had difficulty getting services."

Disabled residents from across the state were referred to TEAM for speech, occupational and physical therapy, along with medical evaluations and treatment "from Ph.D.-level psychologists," he said.

As part of a wider swath of mental health cuts, state officials decided last week that TEAM would not receive a $774,000 diagnostic and evaluation grant, which fully reimbursed two outpatient clinics in Chattanooga and Memphis.

"This is a top-to-bottom review," said Missy Marshall, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. "Why are we doing this? How long have we been doing this? Is it something we need to be doing? ... We found out it was a duplication of services."

In the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30, about 2,700 Tennessee patients received treatment in Chattanooga, Charman said. The Memphis office -- with three staffers, much smaller than the Chattanooga extension -- is closing for good, officials said.

Chattanooga's TEAM Office will remain open, but its five remaining staffers will focus on statewide program management rather than clinical care.

Marshall said children and adults can seek clinical mental health services through the Department of Education and TennCare, among other state programs.

Asked about severance packages for the laid-off employees, Charman said, "We're working on it."

Charman said his staff has told patients to contact their primary care providers or pediatricians "for other options."

"As our clinicians get situated in other places, we'll make that available to the people on our website and here at the office," Charman said.