State commissioner checks transition of developmentally disabled adults

Sue Guinn Legg • Feb 6, 2012 at 10:34 PM

James Henry, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Development Disabilities, stopped in Johnson City Monday to visit some of those who have made the transition from the congregate residential setting at Greene Valley Development Center to community-based residential homes.

Of the more than 7,000 Tennessee residents who receive DIDD services, Henry said most now live in community settings outside the large state facilities like Greene Valley, which today serves 180 residents compared to a few decades ago when the center housed more than 1,000 adults.

Over the past two years, about 30 former Greene Valley residents have made the move to private homes with the assistance of a comprehensive range of supported living services funded by the DIDD. About 30 more are in line to make the transition in the coming year.

While Greene Valley was the best of the three developmental centers operated by the state and its care was at one time “state of the art,” Henry said DIDD’s system of services has been “vastly improved” by the transition to community based “supported living homes” where care is individualized according to recipients’ needs and provider/recipient ratios average one or two to three.

It’s a transition that has been “about 20 years and one lawsuit” in the coming, Henry said, referencing litigation that continues to dictate how DIDD’s residential and support services are provided. “We have hundreds of (supported living) providers across the state.”

Citing a couple of nightmare scenarios uncovered at state development centers in Middle and West Tennessee, Henry said, “There were things that never should have happened” in the development centers. “We should never, ever congregate people in one setting like we did in the past. As we’ve dispersed people out in the community, what we’ve seen is that it has given them a life, many for the first time.”

While in Northeast Tennessee laying groundwork for the next Greene Valley residents to make the move to private homes, Henry said he brought his staff to the regional Core Services office in Johnson City to see what the transition “is all about” and “to meet some of the people who are doing the heavy lifting.”

A nonprofit organization contracted by the state to provide a wide array of direct services including daily living assistance, financial management, transportation and health care, Core services currently serves 47 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in 17 private homes.

At a three-bedroom brick ranch on a quiet residential street in North Johnson City, Core Services Executive Director Ron Bennett introduced Henry and his staff to Lou, an elderly man who came to the home he shares with two house mates from a nursing home about two years ago. “We’ve seen a lot of improvement in the past 1 1/2 to two years,” Bennett said, explaining that Lou was using a wheelchair while at the nursing home and over time has progressed to using a walker and on to walking independently.

With the help of one to three care givers, Lou told Henry he and his house mates, Jack, who is legally blind, and Dianne, who came to the house from a larger group home, often go shopping and out to eat. They go bowling. And, Jack’s personal favorite, they go out for Bingo. The three share their rent and utilities and the support living services that allow them to live independently are provided by the DIDD, Bennett said.

As for Greene Valley, Henry said, like the people its serves, the development center is also in transition. “I foresee Greene Valley becoming a support arm for organizations like Core, providing services that are currently unmatched anywhere else in the community,” he said.

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