That was Bertman’s life before he entered the Northern Virginia Training Center in Fairfax, one of the commonwealth’s five state-run institutions for the developmentally disabled. It was before he developed relationships with the center’s staff members, who have learned to read his body language for signs that he is becoming agitated.
But now, as the state prepares to close four of the five centers and move their residents to community-based group homes, his mother, Judith Korf, worries that Bertman, 41, will end up in the same situation again.
She and other family members are fighting the plans, arguing that their loved ones, many of whom are so disabled they have problems with basic functions, such as swallowing food, need far more care than they will probably get in community settings. Indeed, Bertman is not the only one at the Fairfax center who landed there after community placements failed.
“When I think about what’s going to happen when the training centers are gone — I just don’t even want to think about it,” said Korf, who is 69 and lives in Reston. “For Adam, I think the past has shown that this is the only thing that works.”
Virginia is among the last states to begin dismantling its large institutions for the developmentally disabled, a decision that was made as part of a year-old settlement agreement with the Justice Department, which argued in a lawsuit that Virginia was discriminating against training center residents by keeping them institutionalized. All but one of the commonwealth’s five training centers, as the state calls them, are to be shuttered by 2020, with the one in Fairfax set to close by July 2015.
The state has touted the plan as the best thing for the approximately 18,000 developmentally disabled Virginians who are receiving or waiting for services: Training center residents get to move into the community to homes that will meet their needs, and with the money that is saved by closing the centers, the state can begin to make a dent in its waiting list. About 7,400 families are in line for services or group-home placement, and many have been waiting for years.
Jim Stewart, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, said the population at the training centers has been decreasing for decades, from nearly 6,000 in the 1970s to about 900 today.
“What’s happening now,” Stewart said of the plan to get rid of the centers, “was already happening” on its own.
State officials said they are confident that the training centers’ residents can be properly cared for in the community, and they note that no one will be forced to accept community placement. For guardians who insist on a training center, the state is keeping open one center in Chesapeake, with 75 beds.