KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The parents of a 20-year-old disabled man are wondering how long it will take the state to find their son residential care.
Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, Sean Homer has waited several years for TennCare to find him a home. His parents say they are no longer able to care for him at their home. His parents say he needs special care, but so far there is no room available for Homer.
Diagnosed with Level 3 Autism, his mother said he is nonverbal and has few social communication skills. He’s lived at home all his life, but at 6 foot 4 inches and 250 pounds, he’s become too much to handle alone.
“I can’t take care of Sean by myself anymore. He is too hard to take care of. He is physically too hard,” Wynn Smith said.
“He has violent outbursts and almost anything can trigger it,” Freddie Smith said.
Freddie is Homer’s stepfather. He and his wife have been fighting to get Homer into a state-approved residential home.
“He’s severely autistic. In fact, the Social Security doctors said, ‘He is the most extreme handicapped, severe autism they have ever seen,'” Freddie said.
Currently, Homer attends a special school operated by Knox County. He’s been a student at Ridgedale School since he was three years old.
A letter from TennCare, sent in January of this year, stated Homer is eligible for residential treatment. The family has received statements like this one before.
“He’s been on the waiting list for residential care since he was 16. On the emergency list since he was 18. And they prioritized him on the emergency list at the top on June 1 of last year,” Wynn said.
The Smiths worry about Homer, as he has been known to injure himself, leaving bite marks on his arms.
TennCare sent a letter in March stating, “We are currently searching for a provider – it may take longer than we’d like for you to get this care.”
“They’ve promised us the moon to be honest with you but they never follow through. When it comes down to it, they say, ‘We can’t.’ They back out at the last minute. Well, they have houses for him. There is a place in Jackson, there is a place in Memphis that deals with Class 8. We had him there. There is a man who owns two houses there who said we will take his referral. Again, at the last minute, for some reason, he said, ‘We just can’t take him,'” Freddie said.
“I’ve tried to put myself in his shoes a lot of times when he is really frustrated. I think if there was no way I could communicate with someone how frustrating that would really be,” Wynn said.
“The state has state-funded places for Sean. There are homes and they are overseen by people who are trained that take care of kids like Sean,” Freddie said.
In an email TennCare told WATE Homer’s “health plan continues to search for an appropriate placement,” however, “the nationwide workforce crisis is impacting the availability of providers” for him. His family has not given up hope.
“I want to see him placed in a home,” Freddie said.
So how many beds are available? TennCare told WATE, presently there are four providers in each region of the state that care for adults like Homer. Both the residential provider and family have to agree on the placement, taking into account the “location and potential roommates” at the home.
One final consideration, the “provider has to be able to staff any new placements.” This is apparently one of the roadblocks in finding Homer a room.