NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A federal judge has dismissed much of a long-standing lawsuit over Tennessee’s treatment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Advocates sued the state in 1995 over conditions at several Tennessee institutions, including the Clover Bottom Developmental Center in Nashville and the Greene Valley Developmental Center in Greeneville.
Last year, parties to the lawsuit agreed to an exit plan requiring the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and the Bureau of TennCare to complete several obligations. They included developing training for law enforcement, physicians and caregivers around the special needs of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
The DIDD also has revised support plans to include the person’s “vision of a preferred life” and ways to implement that vision. And the department is implementing a new model for dealing with serious psychiatric or behavioral health needs. It also has established a respite program for times when caregivers may be overwhelmed by their responsibilities.
The state closed the 90-year-old Clover Bottom Developmental Center late last year. At its peak in the 1960s, it housed 1,500 people. In November, the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities moved the last six residents into small group homes.
Citing the closure and compliance with other obligations, U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp partially dismissed the lawsuit on Friday.
The state’s last remaining obligation under the exit plan is to close the Greene Valley Developmental Center, moving residents into the community. Greene Valley currently is scheduled to close June 30, although the exit plan allows for two six-month extensions.
Jack Derryberry is one of the attorneys who filed the original lawsuit on behalf of disabled individuals in Tennessee. He said federal law requires states to provide programs for the disabled in the least restrictive environment.
Derryberry said staff at Greene Valley told him of a man who had moved from the institution into a home in the community, and all of the problematic behaviors staff had previously seen at the institution had disappeared.
“Most of the thinking in the field is that people do much better in the community where they can lead a normal, or nearly normal life,” he said. “They can go to the library or church. They know their neighbors and their neighbors know them.”
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