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Mary Woods

Luella Woods is a 54-year-old living in Memphis. Luella has both intellectual and physical disabilities. She has always relied on her loving family to keep her safe and healthy. After the deaths of her mother and a sister, who were her primary caregivers, Luella struggled to find a place to live that could meet her needs. Luella’s surviving sister, Mary, lives in another state and has health needs of her own, but that does not hinder her from fighting tenaciously for her sister’s well-being.

In a little over a year, Luella had cycled in and out of at least eight different nursing homes and hospitals. The nursing homes were not equipped for Luella’s intellectual disability, so she inevitably ended up back in a hospital for short-term treatment. The constant movement from place to place was extremely detrimental to Luella’s well being. In February 2014, Luella was again in a Memphis hospital, but they were pushing to discharge her with no place for her to go.

Mary, a former police officer, used her grit and knowledge to advocate for her sister. She had contacted two state programs that provide long-term care services for people with disabilities, and Luella was being evaluated for each. Unfortunately, Luella was caught in a fractured system that separates the health care options available for people with intellectual disabilities from those for people with physical disabilities. Each program said that Luella was better suited for the other one, leaving her with no option at all.

When Luella was turned down for these programs and was facing imminent release from the hospital, Mary called the Tennessee Justice Center for help. TJC worked with medical providers at the hospital and a state expert on disability to document Luella’s needs and try to get her the care she so desperately needed. TJC’s advocacy delayed the hospital discharge until Luella found an appropriate long-term placement.

Several weeks later, Luella was finally approved for placement in a specialized group home in Memphis for people with intellectual disabilities. The placement meant that Luella could finally get help, tailored to her unique situation, in the community rather than in an institution. Luella is thriving at her new home. TJC is proud to recognize Mary as a Sister of the Year, for her great love and devotion to her sister. Mary’s advocacy ensured that Luella was finally able to find safety and stability in her community.

Photography credit: Rasha Dowell

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