In advance of four days of hearings and street-based direct action involving more than four hundred people with disabilities, the organization American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT) of Tennessee discussed the plight of people with disabilities confined in nursing homes, developmental disability facilities or residential hospital facilities. Some have managed to leave the institutional environment and are now living in their own homes in the community.
Several Nashville residents who are currently trapped in institutional settings and waiting to rejoin the community will be among those sharing testimonies about why they want to live in the community and the many barriers they are encountering in the struggle to make that dream a reality.
Randy Alexander, an organizer with ADAPT said that , “Adapt is now in town and getting ready for bringing over four hundred folks in Nashville to talk about how immoral it is that the State of Tennessee forces people into institutions because they need daily support rather than providing opportunities for people to get that support in their home communities.
On Sunday, Mach the 19th we will have over 50 people testifying about that institutional bias and what it is like for people to live in those institutions, some of them right here in Tennessee. We are going to talk about how valued their lives are now that they are out of those institutions.”
Bob Kafka, of national ADAPT said people are coming to Tennessee because there is a very active local group here fighting for Tenncare and also because, “Tennessee is a symbol of an immoral national policy that treats institutional services with a sense of entitlement and ignores or rejects many community based services which would better serve the needs of the disabled.
Tennessee has been ranked as one of the ten worst states in terms of meeting the needs of people with attendant needs.
It is just a crime that people have to leave Tennessee just to avoid being placed in an institution when they could live at home.
For any state that has got to be not exactly a symbol of pride. Over four hundred people from all over the country will be coming to Nashville, where incidentally, the leader of the Senate is based.”
Alexander was critical of Governor Bredesen’s leadership on this issue, noting that Tennessee has legislation which could take money away from institutions and put the money into community based care, “We could get him to lead the national Governor’s association away from institutional bias and toward more community based services.
We want to get Frist, a national leader and perhaps the next President of the United States to take more of a leadership role on this issue, to change the federal system, which he is ignoring. I find it amazing that he can talk about family issues and health issues but it is like he is saying to us that he doesn’t really care about us or about these issues.
They want to talk about moral issues but look at what they are doing. We have one of the worst states in the country. We think access to health care is a civil rights issue.”
Kafka added that, “We are here to testify about how hard it is to keep going when we are forced to live in institutions where we are told when to go to bed and when to get up. We are treated like prisoners, butit doesn’t have to be this way.
We can live independently using community based services. Really we have a situation where the only difference between a nursing home and a prison is the uniform. It is a shame that we are jettisoning our old folks into nursing homes which are basically warehouses.
We wonder how long Governor Bredesen would last in one of these nursing homes. If he truly believes that is where people should live when they get older then we challenge him to go live in one of these homes for six months and then see if he still supports the status quo.”
ADAPT is planning to hold public testimony in Nashville on Sunday March 19th at the Nashville Hilton Hotel in the Volunteer Ballroom downtown.
Up to one hundred people with disabilities from across the US who have been or are currently in a nursing home, developmental disability facility, residential hospital or mental health facility will be participating in a series of day long panels.