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April 5, 2013

Open Line

This edition of Open Line includes important information I want to share with you:

State Director of Employment and Day Services:The department would like to extend a warm welcome to Amy Gonzalez as the newly appointed State Director of Employment and Day Services. Ms. Gonzalez comes to DIDD after successful employment with Vanderbilt University and Vocational Rehabilitation in Texas. She was an instrumental part of the Vanderbilt University Next Steps program which is a 2-year certification program for students with intellectual disabilities, providing individualized programs of study in the areas of education, social skills, and vocational training. Please visit this link for additional information:


Ms. Gonzalez’s experience in job development, job readiness training, and exposure to the vocational rehabilitation program aligns with DIDD’s current initiatives to ensure that persons receiving services, as well as those who may require supports in the future, are provided with a vast array of employment opportunities.  Her skills will only prove to be instrumental to our continued success.  Ms. Gonzalez holds a Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling and a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from the University of Texas.

Autism Awareness Month:   Please join us as we work to heighten awareness of this issue that continues to affect many lives.  As reported in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 1 in 88 (11.3 per 1,000) children have been identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  This month, the ARC and Autism NOW are shifting their focus and asking persons living with Autism, “What’s your definition of Autism?” and “What does the word ‘Autism’ really mean to you on a personal and individual level?”  For information on how you can contribute to this important cause, please visit www.autismnow.org.

Community Visit:  This week, my wife Pat had another opportunity to visit one of DIDD’s agencies, Buffalo River Services in Lawrenceburg. She was accompanied by Susan Moss, DIDD Deputy Director of Constitutent Services, and Tammy Pierce of DCS. They visited with persons supported and staff and were invited to visit persons living in a community home. It was a great time of sharing. Everyone was so appreciative of the time spent at the facility and in the home enjoying stories and fellowship. Many persons were out working in the community and the next time Pat travels to Lawrenceburg, she will make plans to visit with them as well.  Special thanks to Executive Director Phil Garner and his  staff for their hospitality.

Fiscal Year 2013-2014 Haslam Administration Amendment to the Budget:   On April 2, Commissioner Mark Emkes of the Department of Finance and Administration, presented an overview of Governor Haslam’s amendment to the state budget he presented to the legislature in January.  This amendment included a few items affecting DIDD:

  1. The Governor recommended funding the entire existing Family Support Program with recurring state funds.  The budget that was submitted in January included $2,681,500 in non-recurring funding to go along with   $4,702,100 in recurring funds.  This amendment replaces the non-recurring     funding with recurring funds.  This action means that this program has made it through the severe, five-year economic downturn intact and as it was   funded before the recession.
  2. The Governor recommended committing $662,400 in state funds to restore 19 positions that were in the January budget’s reduction plan.  Retaining these state positions will be very helpful in achieving the many efforts under way at the   department, including executing the state’s requirements in the Arlington lawsuit       exit plan and other departmental initiatives.  Because the budget submitted in      January included the reduction of 120 positions within DIDD, even with this position restoration, DIDD will still execute a position reduction of 101 positions in June 2013.
  3. The Governor also displayed his commitment to DIDD’s accreditation effort by recommending $106,700 in recurring state funds for the costs of the accreditation contract.

I expect the text of Haslam administration’s amendment, which could have additional impacts on DIDD, to be released to the legislature next week.  In addition, legislative amendments to the Haslam budget will also be considered by the Senate and House finance committees over the next two weeks.  I will continue to keep you informed of the status of the fiscal year 2013-2014 budget as it progresses through the legislature.

Hiring Interns: This week, the Department of Human Resources (DOHR) released a memorandum concerning the utilization of paid and unpaid interns within state departments.  Managers and supervisors, please review the memo and be aware of DOHR expectations for internships.  A copy is available at:


2012 Family Satisfaction Surveys Results:  One of my goals as Commissioner, was to be more attentive and responsive to persons we support and their families. I have worked diligently to meet this goal as evidenced by establishing an advocacy office.  In early 2012 and mid-summer 2012, Dr. Vickey Coleman, Director of Advocacy Services, conducted two family satisfaction surveys.  One survey was conducted in conjunction with the former Arlington Court Monitor Dr. Nancy K. Ray and it included the legal decision-makers of the original Remedial Order class members.  The purpose of this survey was to assess how families felt about community services following the closure of Arlington Developmental Center.  The second survey included the legal decision-makers for class members that were admitted through the At-Risk portion of the Arlington Class Action Lawsuit.  The purpose of this survey was to assess DIDD’s service delivery system in West Tennessee.  It was also one of the advocacy goals listed in the Governor’s Customer-Focused Government Initiative (Top to Bottom Review).

Overall, I felt the results of both surveys were positive and reflected some of my initial thoughts that most people were generally happy.  At the same time, there was very helpful information learned.  The summary report has been shared with my Senior Management Team for their input on how we can use the information from families as we continue to ponder ways to improve our service delivery system.  A sincere thank you to the families and/or legal decision makers who participated in the surveys. The summary report can be viewed on our website at:

Elevate Learning Management System:  The department, in collaboration with Relias Learning, will be hosting a series of conferences across the state to introduce providers to the new online training system replacing the College of Direct Support.   Lunch and beverages will be provided during the conferences. For information on dates, locations, and times, please view the flyer attached to this edition.

EPPC Appointment:  I am pleased to appoint Beth Ritchie of Breakthrough Corporation to serve on the East Planning and Policy Council (EPPC) as a service provider representative.  Ms. Ritchie has a significant amount of non-profit experience in the disabilities field and currently oversees Donor Relations and Fundraising Activities for Breakthrough Corporation, which provides supported living, supported employment, day, personal assistance, respite, and transportation services in East Tennessee.  I appreciate Ms. Ritchie volunteering to serve and providing insight from both her professional and personal experiences.

TGMI 2013:  The department is pleased to support two of our staff to participate in the 2013 Tennessee Government Management Institute (TGMI) leadership training offered by the Department of Human Resources, in partnership with the University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service.  Please join me in congratulating Caira Garcia, Director of Operations in our East Regional Office and Michelle Smith, Middle Tennessee Quality Assurance Director, on their nomination and selection to be a part of this small group of state managers who will experience this special opportunity for academic study, learning practical management skills, and cross-agency networking.  I appreciate your support of Caira and Michelle as they take the time to improve their abilities and in turn, improve the service of our department.

Virtual Vietnam Wall:  I recently learned of an online virtual wall commemorating those who lost their lives during the Vietnam War.  If interested,  please visit  http://www.virtualwall.org/iStates.htm.  On the site, state names are listed from left to right.  Upon clicking the state, the person’s home of record will appear.  In some instances, full biographies of the soldiers are included.  For example, Sgt. Fletcher Seeber’s memorial (Oliver Springs, Tennessee) includes a photo and details his military honors and accomplishments.  Sgt. Seeber’s was a great story and is a fitting tribute to those who have served our country.

SMART911 Photo Contest:  One of our provider agencies, Homeplace, Inc., was recently chosen as one of 20 national finalists in the Smart911 photo competition. Please vote for their picture today. If chosen, the ladies would win $400, a $200 Amazon gift card, and be the face of Smart911.com. Although voting ends today, anyone can vote from now until 5:00 p.m. Please note you can vote only once every 24 hours per computer. Check it out and vote, vote, vote! Please visit https://www.smart911.com/photocontestphp, click on "Vote", and Homeplace is the picture of the three ladies that says "Nashville, TN."

Project HEALTH Program:  The Sports 4 All Foundation offers equipment and classes to persons with disabilities to encourage participation in sports, exercise, recreation, and healthy decision making.  Classes are offered through their Project HEALTH program.  Sports 4 All is actively seeking to increase the number of instructors in Tennessee to allow persons with disabilities access to class opportunities.  However, to lead a Project HEALTH class, certification must be obtained through their organization.  For information on workshops and how to become a certified trainer, please contact Cody Sivley, Project HEALTH Coordinator, at cody@s4af.org.

Easter in the East Region:   Greene Valley Developmental Center had their annual Easter Service on March 28 and were joined by many from the East Tennessee Community Homes (ETCH).  Quite the crowd turned out to attend the service.  Several persons from ETCH sang a selection of songs during the service, and solo performances also included staff from the ETCH.  Rev. Mike Young, former GVDC employee and retiree, brought the message “The Real Meaning of Easter.”  Those of us at GVDC particularly enjoyed the special time of being able to visit with those who had once lived and worked at GVDC but now reside or work in the community homes.  A heartfelt time was enjoyed by all.