Western State Hospital, the mental hospital in Staunton, Va., that serves Northern Virginians, is preparing to move 102 older patients to other parts of the state over the next four months, even as concerned family members of those patients are pushing Gov. L. Douglas Wilder to grant a reprieve for Western's geriatric center.
The closing of Western's geriatric center is part of the budget-cutting plan of the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services required by the governor to help make up for Virginia's projected $1.4 billion revenue shortfall.
Families of older patients at Western said they are concerned their loved ones will be farther away than they are now in Staunton, a 2 1/2- to three-hour drive from Northern Virginia, and that they may not get as good care at other state facilities.
"They know my husband, and I know they are good . . . . Now they are going to uproot him and drag him off somewhere else," said Nancy Maher, of Fairfax County, whose husband, Stanton, 62, has been a patient at Western since 1988.
Stanton Maher, a personnel officer with the federal government until he retired at age 51, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1983. Private nursing homes could not care for him because of his violent and unpredictable behavior, his wife said.
"This was the first place I found that knew how to handle him," Maher said.
Transfer plans are being developed between Western and Virginia's four other geriatric centers, and a meeting with families is scheduled for Sept. 22, said John D. Beghtol, Western's assistant director for community services.
The closest to Northern Virginia is Eastern State Hospital's Hancock Geriatric Treatment Center in Williamsburg, about the same distance from Northern Virginia as Staunton. Hancock would be the most logical alternative for patients from Northern Virginia, Beghtol said.
Proximity to family members will be the first consideration in deciding where a patient will go, he added. Officials from the four facilities will meet with Western officials this week to discuss availability of beds, Beghtol said.
According to state figures, Eastern's geriatric center has a capacity of 325 but averages 283 patients. Western State is full but has fewer patients, and department officials said 24 older patients there were being prepared for discharge already. A department timetable called for all transfers to be completed by January.
In considering alternatives for lowering costs at geriatric units, the mental health department concluded that closing Western's center but keeping its Alzheimer's program and geriatric admissions unit would save the most money and affect the fewest patients. While the Alzheimer's program would be maintained, a source knowledgeable about the unit said it would be used only for short-term stays.
Hoping to save the facility before Wilder announces his final decisions on Friday, the Alzheimer's Association's Northern Virginia chapter has started a telegram and letter campaign to the governor.
"Eliminating this treatment option reflects a blatant insensitivity . . . " said a telegram sent to the governor Wednesday.