Most of us are so engaged in our jobs, our homes and with family and friends that we may not be very aware of the thousands of our fellow Tennesseans with intellectual disabilities who rely upon the assistance that taxpayers provide.
Commissioner Jim Henry of the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (did you know there was such a department?) visited our fine Orange Grove Center in Chattanooga on Friday.
He also provided information to the Times Free Press editorial board about Tennessee's services to those with certain disabilities.
Like other state agencies, Henry's department is having to make some cuts in services to help Tennessee maintain a required balanced budget. During his visit to the Times Free Press, he pointed out that budget cuts of about $48 million will be starting in July.
Among the significant changes that will bring, a cap of 215 hours per month will be placed on personal assistance services designed to help some individuals remain in their homes. That assistance has been unlimited in some cases, which created an unsustainable cost burden on the state and was out of line with what other states offered.
Because some people need more assistance than the 215-hour monthly maximum will provide, some will transition into community-based homes.
Henry pointed out that our Orange Grove Center may end up providing additional services as a result of the changes. But he praised Orange Grove for providing exceptional service over the years.
"You're very lucky to have a place like Orange Grove here," he said, pointing out that many rural areas of the state in particular are not so fortunate.
"If we had a lot of Orange Groves around, we'd be much better off," he added. "They do an excellent job."
One-on-one nursing services, meanwhile, will soon be limited to 12 hours per day, though other home health services, including nursing, may still be available to affected individuals through TennCare.
Both personal assistance and nursing services will remain at more generous levels than are provided in most states, according to the department.
The funding levels and changes in services have not been unexpected, Henry said, so his department has been working with the affected families to help them make the transition and find alternative services.
While thousands of state residents do remain on a waiting list for services, Tennesseans should be encouraged that our state is trying to serve as many people with intellectual disabilities as possible, while still keeping the state's budget balanced.
That is never an easy balance to achieve, and Henry emphasized that Tennessee "must continue to find more cost-effective ways to deliver such care in order to live within the state's resources and not overburden taxpayers."