The Washington Post

Legislators debate closing Va.’s centers for the developmentally disabled

As budget negotiators return Monday to hammer out a compromise on the two-year, $85 billion state budget, they will have to decide what to do with Virginia’s large institutions for the developmentally disabled.

The Senate budget includes language that would have the state try to keep up to four of the state’s five training centers open despite a 10-year, $2.1 billion settlement between Virginia and the U.S. Justice Department that calls for closing all but one.

The amendment, introduced by Sen. Dick Black (R-Loudoun) calls for the commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to investigate a way to save $18 million in savings that could be achieved through using fewer buildings and leasing or selling excess property.

“This amendment acknowledges that there is not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to caring for the most vulnerable among us,’’ Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) said. “This amendment does not stop progress toward creating community-based programs but challenges the governor to come up with a thoughtful plan that addresses the costs and benefits, client and guardian wishes and long-term goal of community integration whenever possible.’’

The proposed settlement, which is pending federal court review, would move hundreds of people into their own homes, their family’s homes or group homes by 2020.

But legal guardians of some residents at the five centers, including one in Northern Virginia, say the deal announced in January violates the rights of family members and will cause irrevocable harm.

The families filed a motion in March to intervene as parties to the settlement so they have a voice in the outcome of the case and, separately, are seeking to dismiss the case, arguing that DOJ did not have the standing to bring the lawsuit.

The January announcement followed a federal investigation of Virginia facilities that concluded that the state discriminated against residents by keeping them in large institutions instead of providing community-based care in smaller settings. The institutions were faulted for keeping residents isolated and rarely allowing them to interact with people who are not disabled.

Some legislators and advocacy groups, including the Arc of Virginia, praised the agreement as a way to improve care for more than 5,000 Virginians. But some families and activists said they are angry that they were not consulted on the agreement and worried about where their loved ones will live. The Senate amendment gave them renewed hope.

It’s unclear if the language will be included in the final budget. House members and the administration of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) do not favor it.

Fourteen negotiators are meeting in small groups to hash out dozens of disagreements between the two chambers.

The General Assembly, in the second week of a special session, hopes to pass a two-year, $85 billion spending plan next week.



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