Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Burchett, state to meet about Lakeshore

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Tennessee Department of Mental Health Commissioner Douglas Varney plan to meet tomorrow afternoon to talk about the state's proposal to close Lakeshore Mental Health Institute.

The meeting, which was confirmed earlier this morning will be the first time the mayor and the County Commission – which also was invited – have a chance to ask questions about future plans.

“I wanted to get him in here as soon as possible,” the mayor said. “The commissioners have a lot of questions and the sooner we can get him in, the quicker we can find solutions.”

The mayor said officials will not vote during the 4 p.m. Meeting, but rather Varney will be asked “to give us the plan on how the closure will take place as they see it.”

Varney in mid-November announced that the state plans to close the facility by the end of the fiscal year, as part of a plan to outsource mental-health care to private inpatient facilities and community-based programs.

County commissioners say they were blindsided by the proposal and want answers. A number of them said during Monday's work session that they tried to reach Varney and have not heard back.

Now, they're asking the local legislative delegation to step in and see what it can do.

"I've talked with some people involved in mental health in Knox County and the question I've asked is: 'What's the plan?' and no one seems to know," Commission Chairman Mike Hammond said. "That isn't to criticize anyone, but if Lakeshore closes, we don't know the plan."

The commission, at the request of Commissioner Jeff Ownby, agreed to ask a number of state leaders, including Gov. Bill Haslam, to delay closing the facility for at least two years. Officials said they are concerned the community doesn't have enough programs to serve many of the patients who end up at Lakeshore. They also said they expect a rise of mentally ill in the homeless and jailed populations if Lakeshore closes.

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