Trip After Death At
BY KEN LITTLE
Community homes in Greene County provide a high level of care for their residents, and the Greene Valley Developmental Center (GVDC) will continue to be a viable force in the area for years to come.
Those were two of the messages communicated by James M. Henry, commissioner of the state Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), during an interview last week at The Greeneville Sun.
Henry and DIDD supervisory officials visited Greene County on a fact-finding visit to a community home at 2015 Susong Drive, where 47-year-old resident Ronnie Derrick was found dead on Dec. 2.
The death remains under internal investigation, and a separate inquiry is being conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, DIDD spokeswoman Missy Marshall said this week.
"We spend all of our careers trying to take care of these people and we didn't want any harm to befall them," Henry said.
Henry also discussed the community home model and the future of Greene Valley Developmental Center during his visit last week.
SPECIAL NEEDS CLIENTS
There are 13 community homes operating in Greene County, and three more under construction.
Each one houses four residents and is an Intermediate Care Facility (ICF), for intellectually disabled clients. Most of the residents have other health-related issues.
"They have needs other people don't have," said Henry, who is the first commissioner of the newly renamed DIDD.
"There a large amount of health problems. You wouldn't be in an ICF unless you have more health problems than the average individual," Henry said.
ICF homes "are a highly medical unit," he said.
The reason community homes are being built across the state stems from a long-running legal dispute with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
In 1992, the DOJ sued the state, citing poor conditions and care at Arlington Developmental Center (ADC).
Since 1993, the facility has been under a court order to correct the problems. In 2006, an agreement was reached between the lawsuit parties known as the Settlement Agreement.
Two of the elements of the agreement were that ADC would downsize and close within three years, and the state would build and operate smaller ICFs or medical residence homes. The development of community homes has been carried through.
Henry, who became DIDD commissioner in March 2011, is a former state lawmaker and Kingston mayor who has a personal interest in mental health issues. A son with disabilities who was in state care for years died earlier this year.
As DIDD commissioner, Henry is responsible for the oversight of two developmental centers and a statewide community-based service delivery system supported by about 2,500 employees, 475 community providers and three regional officers.
GREENE VALLEY TO STAY
The elimination last year of 338 positions at GVDC had a deep impact on the community, and caused many to wonder about its future.
Henry said the Greene Valley Developmental Center remains one of the most significant components of the DIDD system.
"Greene Valley has been a special place for this department and it's responsibility in taking care of people. It is recognized as the best developmental center in the state," Henry said. "The community has always accepted it."
Physical improvements to the facility have been made in recent years, Henry said.
'NOT SHUTTING IT DOWN'
"We're not shutting it down, that's for sure," he said.
Greene Valley remains one of Greene County's major employers, providing jobs for about 670 people.
Residential services are provided 24 hours a day, seven days per week.
Greene Valley has clinically trained staff including physicians, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, dietitians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, behavior analysts, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychological examiners, dental hygienists, and respiratory therapists.
MOVING CAN BE DIFFICULT
It's challenging convincing families of Greene Valley clients to allow the move to community homes. But the "quality of care is good at the homes," Henry said.
He acknowledged there are inherent advantages for those who live at Greene Valley.
"I think some of these people would say that it is better," Henry said. "There's nothing more comforting to a parent than knowing you're going to bed two doors down from a doctor's office. There is a risk to living in the community."
But the court mandate means a continued shift in emphasis to the community home model, Henry said.
"There is an inherent risk you have to take," Henry said. "It's very controversial when you build community houses."
Henry said Greene County is an exception, where most people are accepting of having a community home in their neighborhood.
But for many people in Greene County, close ties remain to GVDC.
"People have been there for many years and are very loyal," Henry said. "It was a real process to get people to move to the community homes."
HELP HARD TO FIND
There are other challenges connected to the community home concept that are not unique to this area.
"We have problems even finding people to take care of people with disabilities," Henry said.
DIDD has 685 employees in Greene County, including 196 employees in community homes.
John Craven, a Greeneville native who is DIDD regional director, was one of the agency top officials who accompanied Henry from Nashville to Greene County last week.
Craven started working at GVDC in 1972. He said the facility, and the people who support it, remain important to DIDD.
"Families and generations have worked here. They have always fit into the same culture. It's a good place," Craven said.
Well into the 1970s, the state's philosophy about caring for people with disabilities was radically different than it is today.
"We warehoused people. We are now able to assist folks in their activities [and have] a meaningful life," Craven said. "We've seen tremendous change and we're always improving."
For more information about DIDD, visit http://www.tn.gov/didd