Friday, November 20, 2009

TN budget cuts could close longtime institution for people with severe disabilities

Nashville's Clover Bottom Development Center shutdown would save the state $36 million a year, By Chas Sisk • THE TENNESSEAN • November 20, 2009 The only state institution in Middle Tennessee for people with severe intellectual disabilities could be closed under a plan introduced Thursday to cut spending. The Clover Bottom Development Center, an 86-year-old Donelson institution that at its peak housed more than 1,500 residents, could be targeted for closure in the next fiscal year if Gov. Phil Bredesen were to go forward with plans to slash the state budget by as much as 9 percent. The closure would save the state $36 million a year, officials from the Division of Intellectual Disabilities Services said. But it would also mean moving the 108 people who still live at the facility on short notice into another state institution in East Tennessee or into private facilities. "There must be great care taken in how we transition a person," said Debra Payne, the division's director. "I think we've been looking to downsize Clover Bottom, but I don't think the planning process has fully developed a plan." The plan was revealed on the third day of public hearings in which government officials presented suggestions for how to close a state budget gap that could reach as much as $1.5 billion next year. Previous suggestions have included releasing as many as 4,000 nonviolent felons and curbing benefits for people enrolled in TennCare, the state insurance program for the poor, pregnant women and children. Bredesen has not yet said which of those proposals he intends to take up, but at Thursday's hearing, he appeared to show some interest in closing Clover Bottom. "Closing a very old state facility and putting them in another facility … would seem to be a good thing," he said. Mary Schaffner, an attorney for the Clover Bottom Parent-Guardian Association, said her group would not be opposed to closing Clover Bottom, if its residents were transitioned safely into another state-run facility. The residents of Clover Bottom have disabilities that are too severe to be placed in group homes, and the care they need is too intensive to be trusted to privately operated facilities, she said. "With state-run, you always have a system of providing good care," she said. "Private ones go up and down in terms of making money." The plan would cut about 3.8 percent from the division's budget. Officials offered no other spending cut proposals, so Bredesen asked that they consider renegotiating contracts for other services, pointing out that only three states spend more per patient than Tennessee to care for people with intellectual disabilities. "I need you to go back and at least tell me if I really have to go there, what do I have to do, he said. "I don't think I'm imposing an impossible challenge." Safety cuts discussed In another hearing, Bredesen also heard officials from the Department of Safety describe possible cuts to that agency. Officials said they would have to remove 25 troopers from the state's highways, leaving 13 small counties without a trooper assigned to them, if Bredesen were to ask them to cut their budget by the full 9 percent. Safety officials also said they would have to close six driver license offices and cut staffing at others, increasing the expected wait time for a driver license to as long as two hours from the current 45 minutes.

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