Tennessee disabled rights sit-in enters third month

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The occupation of Gov. Phil Bredesen’s office here by disabled rights activists has entered its third month. The activists are protesting proposed cuts in TennCare, Tennessee’s state health care program.

The occupation began after Bredesen revealed that proposed cuts in the TennCare program would require individuals with disabilities who live at home but are dependent upon ventilators to be relocated to nursing homes in order to receive services.

In the wake of his public approval rating plummeting below 50 percent, the governor pledged to continue home services for ventilator users. However, the state’s Department of Human Services later announced these services would be cut at the end of the year after all.

State authorities have tried innumerable strategies to bring the demonstration to an end. At one point, a press conference was called as a diversion. Protesters’ belongings were moved out into the hall and office doors were locked. But the demonstration has continued in the hallway outside the governor’s office.

At the same time, Bredesen has been dogged by advocates for rights for disable persons at his public appearances around the state.

The Tennessee action is remarkable “not only that it has lasted for this long,” said California activist Liz Dorffmann, but that it raises health care issues “for every person in the state.”

While he makes positive statements about saving TennCare, the governor’s cuts will cost the state $1.2 billion in federal matching funds, activists note.

A journal of the demonstration can be found on the web site of the Memphis Center for Independent Living, www.mcil.org.