Creating A New State Department Didn’t Change A Thing For Developmentally Disabled Tennesseans

For much of the period covered by the audit, the department was lead by Commissioner Jim Henry. Earlier this year, he and several of his deputies transferred to the Department of Children’s Services, charged with improving problems there. Image courtesy TN Photo Services

For much of the period covered by the audit, the department was lead by Commissioner Jim Henry. Earlier this year, he and several of his deputies transferred to the Department of Children’s Services, charged with improving problems there. Image courtesy TN Photo Services

A new report claims the state of Tennessee doesn’t adequately care for people with developmental disabilities. But the state agency responsible for those programs says their hands are tied by the state budget.

According to an audit from the State Comptroller’s Office, Tennessee does help people with limited intelligence. But there aren’t any programs specifically designed for the developmentally disabled. So those with physical problems, like cerebral palsy or spina bifida, may not be eligible for help if their IQ is normal. What’s more, there are no concrete plans to add programs for them, no effort to seek funds to pay for improvements, not even a clear count of how many Tennesseans fall into that category.

The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disability was created two years ago specifically to improve the state’s efforts. In their response to the audit, department officials say they can’t add anything when they’re told to cut the budget rather than expand it.

The auditors will present their findings to a legislative oversight committee on Wednesday.

Disability definitions used by the state of Tennessee

Intellectual Disability: IQ of 70 or lower, paired with significant limitations to one’s ability to carry out everyday tasks or adapt. Must manifest before age 18.

Developmental Disability: physical and/or mental impairment that alters or severely impairs daily living. Must start before age 22. Includes muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, autism, spina bifida and injuries to the spinal cord or head as well as genetic, neurological or chromosonal abnormalities.

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