NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State disability officials told legislators Wednesday that they are taking steps to improve the way cases involving abuse allegations are handled.
Commissioner Debbie Payne of the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities told a legislative subcommittee that a policy has been instituted to prohibit one person from overturning the results of internal investigations. Instead, the responsibility will be handed over to an investigations review committee.
The new policy was instituted in the wake of an audit by the state comptroller’s office that was critical of the way two deaths were handled. The audit said there were substantiated allegations of wrongdoing involving employees of a service provider.
However, the then-deputy commissioner overturned the findings of the internal investigation, and the contract provider was never held accountable.
“We take very seriously allegations of abuse … and have taken some very strong assertive actions to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Payne said.
The department serves more than 8,000 people, many of whom live in state institutions or community settings. About 7,200 are on a waiting list for services, said officials, adding that they just don’t have the money to provide services to all who need them.
The audit said that unless the state finds a sufficient funding solution, “the high number of individuals … on the waiting list for Medicaid services will continue to plague the department.”
Jim Henry preceded Payne as commissioner and said part of the funding problem is simply a result of the economic downturn over the last several years.
“We’ve been involved in a national recession since 2008,” said Henry, now the commissioner of the state Department of Children’s Services. “We were trying to shelter the programs we had.”