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Vicki Burney

Vicki Burney is a busy woman: she is a mother of two, a grandmother of five, a wife of almost 30 years, a certified medical coder, the office supervisor at Vanderbilt University, a student at Bethel University, and the caretaker for her aunt, Tommie Lee.

Tommie is 88 years old and suffers from COPD, hypertension, arthritis, and severe mental health issues. Tommie is a lifelong resident of Tennessee. She worked cleaning houses until she was in her mid-seventies. Several years ago, Tommie’s husband of more than 40 years passed away, leaving Vicki as Tommie’s primary caretaker.

Tommie was staying at an assisted living facility, where, despite her busy schedule, Vicki would stop by to visit every Sunday after church in order to spend time with her aunt and to run errands so that her aunt had all she needed.

Eventually, Tommie was moved to a psychiatric hospital to undergo an evaluation, but she was not well enough to return to the assisted living facility when she was discharged. She was placed in a nursing home, but denied nursing home care through the TennCare CHOICES program.

CHOICES medical criteria is difficult to satisfy. This means Tommie couldn’t get coverage for her care, even though she was too sick to stay in assisted living and had no other options.

Vicki courageously advocated for her aunt at a CHOICES appeal hearing in November. Despite this effort, an administrative law judge denied the appeal. Unwilling to give up, Vicki contacted the Tennessee Justice Center. TJC helped Vicki ask for reconsideration of the administrative law judge’s order. Then, TJC found Ms. Lee a pro bono attorney to take her case to Chancery Court.

Even now, Vicki is still fighting to get CHOICES to provide the care her aunt’s life depends upon. She won’t stop fighting until Tommie Lee can live her final years with the dignity she deserves. For her amazing dedication to her aunt, TJC is proud to recognize Vicki as a Niece of the Year.

Photography by Toni Viola.

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