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Why holistic care best supports people with developmental disabilities

Originally published in The Tennessean, November 2023

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to participate in the grand opening ceremony for Kramer Davis Health’s new clinic in Nashville. One of the guest speakers was Tina Davis, “the proud and blessed mother” of Terrence Davis, an adult with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) — and part of the namesake of this new facility. 

“There is most definitely a spirit in this place,”  Tina began before sharing how, after Terrence graduated high school, the family was unsure of their next steps. Growing up, Terrence had few positive health care experiences. But that all changed when his family was connected with Lee Specialty Clinic in Louisville, KY, an institution serving adults with IDD and precursor to Kramer Davis.  

“These doctors welcomed Terrence with open arms — and now when he sees the specialists there, he leaves his mom behind,” Tina said.

“He may not say it, but he knows what true love, what true heart, what true compassion is all about. He is at home. We found his place where he belonged, and where we as a family belonged.”  

Stories like those of the Davis family remind me what we’ve learned at BlueCare Tennessee over the years about patients with these challenges. A refrain I hear far too often is that adults with IDD sometimes fall through the cracks in the health care system. 

Meeting an underserved need

That’s why we’ve embarked on a new partnership with Kramer Davis, an organization dedicated exclusively to providing whole-person care for patients with IDD. These providers have now opened their first clinic in Tennessee. Patients can visit and receive preventive care, dental, physical therapy — anything they may need. They’ll also be able to see the same providers each time, a crucial component in building trust and improving outcomes.  

They’re able to build relationships at the clinic, become comfortable with their surroundings, and feel supported.

From sights and sounds, to physical location, to spaces to get away, to layout and positioning of entrances and exits, everything has been designed around the needs of those with IDD. 

BlueCare has long been an innovator in our support of members with disabilities.  We played a key role in launching the state’s Employment and Community First (ECF) CHOICES program, which empowers individuals with IDD to work in a role of their choosing and build more independent lives. Bringing Kramer Davis to Tennessee and into the BlueCare network is another way we’re creating purposeful opportunities for this population. 

At outset of this project, we were asked, “How will you measure success?”

Kramer Davis is heavily invested in showing that services for this population don’t just positively impact health — they improve overall well-being and lower the total cost of care for these individuals.

Specialists in multiple disciplines coordinate care onsite with a whole health care team. They want to help lift patients to their highest level of ability — in that sense it’s a habilitation center, not rehabilitation. 

Increasing the availability of behavioral health care tailored specifically to the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities was a motivating factor in this partnership, as well. Kramer Davis has clinicians on staff certified to provide these specialized services. These services will also ultimately be helpful to parents and family members as they seek care for their loved ones.

Ensuring everyone has a voice at the table

At BlueCare, we share Kramer Davis’ belief that this investment will result in longer-term health and improved quality of life for this population.  We also support and applaud their unique approach to holistic health, which includes these members in a decision-making panel with their care team. It helps give them purpose and agency. They’re more than just patients; they’re part of the clinic’s work, and their families feel that, too.  

There’s long been a need for such culturally competent care in our state. Like Tina Davis, our hope is that more individuals will benefit from these services, just like Terrence. 

About Casey Dungan, President and Chief Executive Officer, BlueCare Tennessee

A photo of the authorAs president and CEO of BlueCare Tennessee, a subsidiary of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Casey leads an organization serving more than 700,000 of Tennessee’s most vulnerable residents.

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