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Greene Valley closure draws opposition from families | News

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Greene Valley closure draws opposition from families
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The state's efforts to close down Tennessee's last remaining large institution for people with limited mental functioning drew an impassioned response in federal court on Wednesday from relatives with loved ones still living there.

The state has agreed to close Greene Valley Developmental Center by June 2016, moving the last 96 residents into smaller, residential homes and closing the 40-year-old facility that once house 1,500 people for good.

Relatives and guardians of some of those residents told a federal judge that the move would jeopardize the health and welfare of residents, some of whom have lived at the Greeneville facility for decades.

Elizabeth Holloway described the life of her 84-year-old uncle, who was born with severe medical and intellectual disabilities and lived with his parents until he was 50 and they were too old to care for him. He moved to Greene Valley 34 years ago. He now suffers dementia. Any move from longtime caretakers he has grown to love, the quality of 24-hour, on-site medical care and the security of well-known surroundings would substantially increase his anxiety and place his health at risk, she said.

"This proposal β€” call it what you want β€”the reality for him is eviction from his home." said Holloway. "It's not fair or reasonable or adequate for him."

The plan to close Greene Valley is part of an overall agreement to end nearly twenty years of federal court oversight over two large institutions operated by the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. A second institution, Clover Bottom Developmental Center in Nashville, is scheduled to close in June. A federal court has been overseeing the facilities since the Department of Justice first filed suit in 1996 over deplorable conditions inside the state's institutions for people with intellectual disabilities, defined as possessing an IQ of 70 or less.

The plan to shut down Greene Valley emerged unexpectedly earlier this month, taking many guardians by surprise.

But it comes many years into a national movement to end the practice of caring for people in large asylum-style facilities and integrating them into neighborhood homes. For decades, Tennessee officials have slowly transitioned residents form large institutions into small groups homes or four-person or eight-person medical facilities.

"This should come as no real surprise to anyone because in many respects that institution has been closing since the 1970s," said Jonathan Lakey, an attorney for the state.

At its peak, 3,200 people lived in state institutions, but today just 96 remain at Greene Valley and 20 at Clover Bottom. The cost of providing care to so few in institutions built to serve hundreds has become "economically prohibitive," Lakey said. Those skyrocketing costs β€” more than $1,200 per person per day at Greene Valley β€” come at a time when more than 7,000 people with intellectual disabilities are on a waiting list for services because the state has no money to pay for them. It's not fair that those funds are not available for them, Lakey said. And today there are far more alternatives to institutional care, he said.

"In the 1960s there was no place else for these people to be served," Lakey said. "But the state has come a long way."

Four guardians of residents living in Greene Valley have hired an attorney, who on Wednesday asked that the court allow them to intervene in the case.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp said he will rule next week on whether the guardians can legally intervene. He will also rule on whether to approve an "exit plan" from the lawsuit that includes the plan to close Greene Valley as well as institute other changes in the way the state cares for people with intellectual disabilities.

But lawyers for the state told the judge that while his approval is needed to end the long-running court case, the decision to close Greene Valley ultimately lies with the state.

"There is no regulation that requires us to continue to keep it open." Lakey said.

Reach Anita Wadhwani at 615-259-8092 or on Twitter @AnitaWadhwani.


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