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State Budget Shortfall Hits Home For Tennesseans With Mental Disabilities

June 30, 2008

Nashville, TN – This year's state budget shortfall means across-the-board cuts to vital services and programs for people with disabilities. For those whose disabilities are mental, that means fewer services, fewer people receiving help and layoffs among care providers. Advocates are concerned about the future for these people and their families.

Donna Destefano is assistant director of the Tennessee Disability Coalition. In many cases, she says, people already are not getting the services they need to be able to stay in their communities.

"The net effect of this will be to destabilize the community provider system and force people back into institutional-type levels of care, if not into institutions themselves."

According to Destefano, this change could result in a return to separating and isolating people with mental disabilities from the rest of the population, a practice that has long been abandoned in favor of community-based care.

The Department of Mental Retardation Services (DMRS) currently serves more than 8,000 Tennesseans. DMRS provides occupational and physical therapy, as well as speech and motor therapies and mental services. In addition, court-required advocates are available to help people leave institutions and return to their families.

Destefano warns that all these services could be cut or scaled back in favor of what she calls an outdated system of evaluating people.

"Instead of using a more rehabilitative and community-oriented model, we're going backwards."

Barbara Dab/Eric Mack, Public News Service - TN