NEW HIRES AT CENTER FOR PEDIATRIC THERAPY
- Alyce Benson -- senior social worker
- Cathy Burriss -- speech-language pathologist
- Mary Dee Kelly -- physical therapist
- Mary Mullins -- occupational therapist
- Karen Weigle -- clinical psychologist
Source: Center for Pediatric Therapy
A local special-needs pediatric therapy hub has hired five senior employees from TEAM Centers Inc., the state-subsidized mental health facility that's closing its key clinical program next month.
"We wanted to decrease the hysteria and anxiety," said Melody Gaston, an occupational therapist and owner of the Center for Pediatric Therapy. "We hope this calms some people down."
Gaston said the new hires reached out to the Center for Pediatric Therapy last week after TEAM did not receive a $774,000 state grant it had gotten for years, prompting TEAM's interim executive director, Peter Charman, to announce 22 layoffs.
The grant was eliminated as a result of state lawmakers' budget cuts.
But records show that state officials offered a $193,000 grant to allow TEAM to extend paychecks, diagnoses and clinical care through the end of September, giving the agency extra time to seek alternative revenue sources.
Instead, Charman said he planned to use that money for severance packages and "shutdown costs," leaving TEAM's 2,700 patients without a formerly reliable option starting Aug. 12.
When the Chattanooga Times Free Press notified state officials of Charman's plans, the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities put a hold on the $193,000 grant, citing possible impropriety.
Missy Marshall, a state spokeswoman, said the department is "looking into the issue."
As those developments unfolded, the for-profit Center for Pediatric Therapy hired TEAM's clinical director, senior social worker and speech-language pathologist, along with a physical therapist and occupational therapist, at least partially offsetting the losses at TEAM, officials said.
Including the new hires, the Center for Pediatric Therapy now boasts a staff of 19 equipped with a physical therapy gymnasium and individual treatment rooms. Gaston described the facility as "wooded, not in the concrete jungle and very different from your typical setting."
While the facility has no medical doctor on staff, it diagnoses, evaluates and treats what TEAM treated -- autism, developmental delays and the like -- along with treatment for ADHD and muscular dystrophy, among other disorders.
The Center for Pediatric Therapy may expand its hours and hire additional people for clerical and clinical positions, Gaston said.
Meanwhile, TEAM sent a letter dated July 21 to its clientele, explaining that the agency had no choice "but to wind down the program and to make reductions in our program personnel."
"TEAM regrets that, due to this elimination of funding, you [or your child, as applicable] will no longer be able to receive Program evaluation and treatment services from providers at TEAM as of August 12th 2011," the letter signed by Charman states.
The $193,000 state grant expires Sept. 30, records show.
Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6610.