Debra K. Payne was appointed as commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) on June 1, 2013. Payne is the second commissioner to take the helm since the Tennessee legislature established DIDD as a stand-alone department effective January 15, 2011. Prior to serving in this capacity, Payne was the first deputy commissioner of DIDD.
As commissioner, she is responsible for the oversight of the state’s two developmental centers, a statewide community-based service delivery system supported by more than 1800 employees, more than 400 community providers, and three regional offices. Under her leadership, the state exited the longstanding Arlington Lawsuit, and DIDD achieved network accreditation for Person-Centered Excellence, the first state service delivery system in nation to do so. Her responsibilities also include directing major systems changes and ensuring compliance with the court-ordered Exit Plan which will bring to a close the longstanding Clover Bottom Lawsuit.
Payne became a volunteer at Clover Bottom Developmental Center when she was 14 years old, and then, after graduating from MTSU, came back to work at the center as a developmental technician. She has been a state employee in this field since 1977, with a three-year stint beginning in 2000 as administrative director of a contracted provider agency, before being recruited back into state government as the statewide director of Protection from Harm for DIDD, known at that time as the Division of Mental Retardation Services.
Payne resides in Mount Juliet with her husband, Mike. She has three children, two stepchildren, and two grandchildren. She was recently awarded the Arc of Tennessee’s Integrity Award.