City Reporter 

City Reporter

Order Of Selection

Budget cuts force rehab services to turn away clients.

By Janel Davis

As many as 65 percent of eligible Tennesseans who apply for rehabilitation services will be turned down due to budget-tightening.

In a July 31st memorandum from the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS), assistant commissioner Carl Brown informed staff members that an order- of-selection mandate had been issued, declaring that only the most significantly disabled clients receive services.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 defines "significantly disabled" as priority category-one individuals whose "physical or mental impairment seriously limits two or more functional capacities, [who have] one or more physical or mental impairments, and whose vocational rehabilitation can be expected to require multiple vocational rehabilitation services over an extended period of time."

Clients in the other four priority categories, listed by decreasing severity, will not receive services.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) called for the order, effective August 1st, which is required by federal law when there is not enough money available to provide services for eligible clients in all priority categories. DHS was denied a budget increase in the past legislative session, instead receiving the same appropriation as the last several years.

"The cost of rehab services increases each year. We requested the additional improvement money to keep up with the rising costs," says Brown. "The last order was issued in 1995, and there's no indication of when funds will be available to lift this one."

Not only did DHS fail to receive more than $600,000 in improvement funds but it also did not receive federal matching funds that would have been issued along with state funding, resulting in an almost $2 million deficit.

This deficit hits close to home for area rehabilitation programs. Jean Phebus, director of Memphis Works, says without the additional funding many of her clients will be turned away.

"It takes close to $1 million each year to run our programs for our 150 enrollees," says Phebus. "With the cuts, we will not be able to serve most of those people. The ones who need just a little help, just one class, won't get it."

Memphis Works provides vocational rehabilitation services to the disabled. Its programs include certified nursing assistant, office skills, and manufacturing. The program currently places from six to 10 successfully rehabilitated clients into the workforce each month. Phebus says this number will decrease to two successful placements without proper funding. Her only hope is that Tennesseans will petition legislators on their behalf.

"Our best hope is that the allocation of monies could be adjusted," she says. "This is a group of [disabled] people that has hurt for so long."

Paul Ladd, director of communications for DHS, says disabled clients will be evaluated and assisted like "triage at a hospital."

"We will serve who we can, and those we can't, we won't," says Ladd. "Those we can't serve will be put on waiting lists and hopefully receive funds from other private sources."

DRS serves more than 36,000 Tennesseans with disabilities who must continue to be served despite the mandate, either because they were already enrolled in the programs or fall in a qualifying category. All areas of the division's services will be affected, including vocational rehabilitation services, services for the blind and visually impaired, the 17 state-operated community rehabilitation centers and the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center, services for the deaf and hard of hearing, and the Transition from School to Work program for students with disabilities.

DRS receives approximately 20,000 new referrals each year.

Fifty Bucks

Traffic fatality shows the surprising cost of a human life.

By Rebekah Gleaves

Jacquelyn Oswalt says she now knows the value of a human life: $50.

Around 8:30 a.m. on June 30th, Oswalt was taking her fiancé, Michael Affleck Jr., to work. They were cruising through a green light, southbound on Ridgeway, when Steven Russell Allshouse disregarded a red light and made a left turn from Knight-Arnold, hitting Oswalt's car. Oswalt was knocked unconscious immediately and stayed that way for four days. When she awoke, she learned that Affleck had died shortly after being airlifted to the Regional Medical Center.

Allshouse, who could not be reached for comment, suffered minor injuries and received a citation for running the red light. On August 27th he appeared in traffic court and was fined $50 plus court costs. Oswalt and her mother were in traffic court that day to watch the proceedings.

"The judge and prosecutor told my mother and I that we shouldn't even have been in traffic court," says Oswalt. "That they didn't have time to deal with that sort of thing."

She'll tell you that she's haunted by the knowledge that life can come and go so cheaply; that Michael's life was taken early and all the offender got was a small fine.

"I thought that maybe he'd have his license revoked or have to go to driving school or something," says Oswalt. "I was devastated to learn that he would only have to pay $50 for murder."

But the maximum fine for running a red light is set at $50, and that was all that Allshouse had been charged with. Furthermore, according to Shelby County Deputy District Attorney James Challen, it is very difficult to prosecute a person criminally for a traffic violation.

"If alcohol is involved -- or some other similar type of conduct -- or if someone is driving on the wrong side of the road, then we might be able to prosecute them criminally," says Challen. "But we have people that run red lights all the time with the result being an injury or a fatality, and we cannot prosecute them."

Challen says that when the driver is speeding, it is possible to prosecute him. However, it is difficult to prove that the driver was speeding without any concrete evidence, and for this reason criminal prosecution in not usually pursued.

Oswalt says that people who witnessed the accident told her that the light had been red for more than a minute when Allshouse made the turn and that he seemed to have been speeding at the time. Absent concrete proof of either claim -- evidence impossible to obtain after the fact -- Allshouse could not be charged with reckless driving or any other offense.

According to Challen, other factors -- like the defendant's arrest and driving records -- cannot be used in determining whether to prosecute criminally.

"It would be unfair and unethical to look at a person's past when determining whether or not to charge," says Challen. "That is information that we would probably use during a trial, but we cannot consider it before the trial."

Allshouse will never face a criminal trial on this matter, and Oswalt says that now she is more troubled that he still has a driver's license. He has, in the past, been arrested for aggravated assault, reckless driving, public intoxication, and driving under the influence. In addition, he received a speeding ticket two weeks prior to hitting Oswalt, ironically from the same officer who issued the citation for the June 30th accident. Affleck's family and Oswalt have now hired a lawyer to represent them in a civil suit.

City Beat

Cancellations

Hotels and convention center brace for an economic slump.

by John Branston

The positive momentum Memphis was enjoying in the convention and tourism business has come to a dramatic halt in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

"This is an interruption that is going to affect us for a while," says Kevin Kane, head of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).

Memphis hotels have already lost at least 45 meetings with an estimated impact of 15,000 room nights and revenue of $6 million, based on calls to the bureau and a CVB spot survey of local hotels.

That includes the Southern Heritage Classic college football game, which was postponed last weekend and moved to Thanksgiving weekend.

"That was huge for us," says Kane.

The bureau plans to focus on the regional market or so-called drive market for the rest of this year and the first part of next year in the hope that fear of flying is the main deterrent to travel. But corporate belt- tightening and general inconvenience are also to blame.

"Prior to the attacks, corporate travel had already slowed considerably as a result of the slowdown in the economy," says John Oros, senior vice president of convention development at the CVB. "We are very concerned about what this will do to business travel in the short term."

At the Memphis Cook Convention Center, the Southeastern Booksellers Association trade show will meet as scheduled this weekend but without author Rick Bragg. He was supposed to autograph books but was called back for reporting duty by his employer, The New York Times.

"We did have some meetings cancel," says Debbie Foshee, director of sales and marketing. "St. Jude canceled a meeting because they could not get people here for an all-day meeting, and we also had to cancel a fairly large corporate party. But there have been no cancellations, at this point, of our larger conventions."

At The Peabody, a group of older tourists gathered in the lobby to watch the duck march Monday afternoon, but the list of posted meetings had only one entry, an agency hearing on a securities complaint. General manager Victor Mills recalls his director of sales saying sadly last Tuesday that "things were going too well" with the Grizzlies, the Peabody Place Entertainment Center, and other good news.

"We are experiencing cancellations and we are very concerned," says Mills. "The fear of travel appears to be real. One large group did not cancel, but they are Missouri-based."

The Marriott downtown was practically deserted Monday afternoon except for a few employees. A sign on the meetings marquee read "no events scheduled." Director of marketing Mark Sussman says the hotel has had "five to seven" groups cancel, with the size ranging from 10 to 150 rooms. Most of the groups, however, plan to rebook.

"It doesn't make financial sense to pull folks together now, and we can understand that by all means," he says. "There is definitely some leniency there on our part."

Longer term, Sussman and others are optimistic.

"We will snap back," Sussman says. "As the economy was struggling, people were seeking options, and Memphis was a viable option for people looking for value."

The Memphis CVB is buoyed by a survey showing that two-thirds of business and leisure travelers said they would not change their plans. Also, 60 percent of the groups canceling in the last week have indicated they plan to rebook. For the first eight months of 2001, Memphis tourism was running even with last year, in contrast to competitors such as Nashville, Atlanta, and Charlotte, which were running behind.

The bad news, says Oros, is that spring and fall are the heaviest travel times for businesses and "50 percent of our market mix in Memphis is the business traveler."

On top of that, the CVB says Memphis had already lost four major groups for 2002 because of delays in construction of the new convention center. Construction is supposed to be finished next year but bookings may not rally until 2003.

Moving Forward

Latest special master reports show some progress on jail improvements.

By Mary Cashiola

"Concern" seemed to be the key word for a new report released Monday about the Shelby County jail.

The latest in status reports made by jail special master Chuck Fisher and court-appointed monitors Wanda Kilgore-Schneider and Curtis Shumpert, the document surveyed 14 key areas of jail operation, including medical service, recreation, general investigation bureau, and emergency plans. The conclusion: Jail officials have not achieved all of their goals, but they have been working diligently to that end.

Jail officials have a target date of October 4th to begin switching the 5th and 6th floors from indirect supervision to direct supervision. Direct supervision, which puts officers in the cellblock or pod with the inmates, is considered by correctional experts to be the most effective way to supervise inmates.

"We need to start as soon as possible," says Fisher. "The monitors didn't want to do anything to delay that conversion."

Fisher says that while probably everything the jail needs won't be done by October 4th, it's important to move forward so problems can be found and fixed as soon as possible.

The report expresses concern about certain unmet goals: Diagnosis of mental-health complaints are still not met adequately and quickly; both drills to test the Shelby County Emergency Response Plan were announced in advance; and 160 incidents of crimes committed within the jail have been reported to the external General Investigation Bureau and the attorney general, yet there have been zero prosecutions.

Another area the monitors are concerned about is food service.

"It's unrecognizable," says Fisher. "The quality of food they purchase is not that great and the equipment they have to cook the food isn't the right type of equipment for what they have. Even in the best circumstances, the preparation of the food leaves something to be desired."

Once prepared, the food often sits in open trays, growing cold before being served to the inmates. Monitors were told it would take about three weeks minimum to change the menu.

"Two things inmates complain about most are medical service and food service. With direct supervision, it's imperative that the food is at least palatable so complaints about it are left to a minimum."

According to him, there are only two ways to reduce violence in the jail. The first is to go to single-celling, having one inmate in each cell, but that would reduce the jail's population by half and put an enormous strain on the county. The second is simply better supervision.

"I cannot overstate the magnitude of change the county is going to go through. For 20-odd years they've been in indirect-supervision mode. The officers did not have to care if the inmates got frustrated because they were on the other side of the bars."

On Track

Race for the Cure hits streets in October.

By Rebekah Gleaves

Contrary to reports last year, Race for the Cure will take place in the Memphis area again this fall. The event, which raises money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, is scheduled for Saturday, October 20th, at the Shops of Saddle Creek in Germantown.

Last year, the crew organizing the Memphis race announced that it would not take place in 2001 because the enormous number of participants had become too much for the volunteer group to handle.

"We are pleased to announce that Kroger Delta Marketing Area has joined our efforts by bringing to the table a huge commitment to be not only our local presenting sponsor for the Race but also partnering with our affiliate's year-round efforts to educate the community on breast health issues," says Nicole Roleson, the Memphis-area president of the foundation, in a press release.

Roleson later told the Flyer that Kroger, the presenting sponsor for the Komen race in Little Rock, approached the Memphis organizers and offered to be the presenting sponsor here, too.

Last year the race drew 13,207 participants, its largest number ever, and raised $501,709 to donate to local and regional organizations and individuals.

Controversy surrounded the Memphis race last year when men were not allowed to run the course. Volunteer opportunities for men were limited to manning booths and giving water to runners.

Many men and women took issue with this limitation, saying that not only could men contract breast cancer but that they also suffered when the women in their lives contracted the disease. Local race organizers defended the decision to exclude men from the race itself by saying that it was a day for women to come together and that it was important that female runners, who typically run slower times than males, cross the finish line first.

This year Memphis organizers agreed to allow men to run separately from the women. The men's race will begin at 7 a.m. and will last approximately 45 minutes. Afterward, a new finish line will be strung before the women's race begins at 8 a.m.

"We took a look at who participates in other cities and realized that only three other [Komen] races in the country didn't include men," says Roleson. "I think that everyone will understand why we decided to have the men's race and have it separate from the women's race. So far we've had an overwhelmingly positive response from men."

There are 112 Komen affiliate races across the country and this will be the first time in the Memphis race's eight-year history that men are allowed to run.

For more information: www.komenraceforthecurememphis.com.

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