Grant meant for continuing mental health program instead being used to shut it down

Grant meant for continuing mental health program instead being used to shut it down

July 21st, 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.

Copy of assistant commissioner for community services at the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Debbie Payne's memo.

The executive director of a mental health treatment center in Chattanooga is planning to use a $193,000 state grant to shut down the center's primary therapeutic program rather than finance it for three more months, records show.

TEAM Centers Inc. interim Executive Director Peter Charman said he'll use the grant to stop admitting patients, lay off 22 employees and shut down the diagnostic and evaluation program effective Aug. 15. The grant -- which was meant to continue the program, not stop it -- expires at the end of September.

Charman said the shutdown is expensive and "has to occur sometime."

State officials are baffled.

"I don't recall him at all saying this money would be used to close the program down," said Debbie Payne, assistant commissioner for community services at the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, who helped Charman apply for the grant. "When I was presenting alternative revenue resources, I thought it would help them sustain their program."

Records show state officials gave the money to finance therapy and evaluation for residents suffering from mental disabilities, autism, cerebral palsy and other disorders.

For many years, the state annually gave the nonprofit TEAM a $774,000 grant to fund the center's clinical psychology and speech therapy services, among others. An internal memo dated July 13 shows Payne notified Charman about the state's decision to discontinue the grant in a cost-cutting move.

"I also told Peter Charman ... that we would issue a new grant for a 3-month period with amounts of 3/12ths of the annual cost," Payne wrote. "This will allow him to notify employees and seek new revenue sources."

The Chattanooga Times Free Press obtained a copy of Payne's memo Tuesday night.

Charman confirmed the document's details Wednesday, but he claimed state officials knew he would spend the money for shutdown costs and provided an email he sent to Payne on June 27.

"We've not received any communication from the State and will be forced to close the [clinical care] program without the support of this long-standing grant," he wrote.

The email contains no language about needing money to shut down the program.

"If they're a not-for-profit, there's several different ways to raise revenue," Payne said.

TEAM Centers Inc. gets about $2.2 million in other state contracts, she added, and has the option of applying for jointly funded federal and state programs.

In the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30, about 2,700 Tennessee patients received treatment at the Chattanooga TEAM center, Charman said.

Five employees, including him, will keep their jobs at the Chattanooga office after Aug. 15, focusing on statewide program management rather than clinical care.

As for TEAM's patients, Charman recommended contacting their primary care providers or pediatricians "for other options."

"We had to look at the greater health of the entire organization to be able to go forward," he said.