Giving Older Adults a State Agency “Home”: Introducing the New Department of Disability and Aging

Gradient dark blue background image with DIDD logo on top left and TCAD logo on bottom left of the image. Separating the two logos is two blue merging arrows pointed right to a picture with a white border of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee wearing a Navy blazer, white dress shirt, and a diagonal striped green, blue and white tie, sitting behind a dark brown desk sighing a document in a green cover. Standing on his left looking over his shoulder smiling is DIDD Commissioner Brad Turner wearing a navy suit, white dress shirt, and a red tie. Standing on his right is Senator Becky Massey wearing a blue jacket with silver rings and dark bottoms. They all are in front of a the US flag on the left and the TN flag on the right in front of a two windows with brown wooden frames and blinds.

It’s no secret that Tennessee has become a hotspot for relocations from different parts of the United States over the past five years, as people are attracted to our state’s natural beauty, low taxes, and business-friendly climate. But did you know that adults 65 and over are the fastest-growing demographic?

With the rapidly increasing aging population, it’s essential that state government makes sure it can meet those needs. While the state has long had a Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability (TCAD) to address those needs, it was clear that this growing population needed a cabinet-level agency to advocate, communicate and enhance services for older adults.

When looking for a state agency “home” for this population, the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities was a perfect fit for many reasons. Many of the services TCAD offers are aligned with those provided by the department. Older adults and adults with physical disabilities could benefit greatly from DIDD’s expertise in home and community-based services, enabling technology, seating and positioning, nutrition, and clinical services. DIDD has also assumed oversight of both quality assurance and reportable event management for the CHOICES program, which provides important accountability and oversight to the largest Medicaid-funded program for older adults and those with physical disabilities.

To make this merger a reality, Gov. Lee signed the Tennessee Disability and Aging Act on April 11, 2024, creating the new department, the Department of Disability and Aging. The change is effective on July 1, 2024. DIDD Commissioner Brad Turner will become the Commissioner for the new department.

DIDD and TCAD are already working hard to make sure this merger is done as seamlessly as possible. DIDD has embraced this new challenge and is excited to enhance its role to serve more Tennesseans. Not only will it continue to prioritize high-quality services and supports to children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it is also committed to identifying areas of need within the aging community. Furthermore, this merger will amplify the voices of both the disability and aging community on areas of concern for both populations, including the availability of home and community-based services, respite and other caregiver support, staffing, transportation, and ensuring healthy, happy lives with as much independence as possible.

All Tennesseans deserve to live a full and dignified life. Through the partnership of the people, families, employees, providers, commission members, and advocates, the Department of Disability and Aging is ready to take on new challenges and ensure we are doing all we can to support people from birth through the lifespan to have the highest quality of life.

Cara Kumari is the Assistant Commissioner of Communications and External Affairs for the new Department of Disability and Aging.  She has led the nationally recognized Communications team for the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities for more than a decade. She is excited to tell the stories of older adults and adults with physical disabilities and find new ways to communicate with and serve this population.