For seven years Mary C. Bender, of Fairfax County, took comfort in the quality of care her mother received at Western State mental hospital in Staunton, Va.
But last month the facility, which serves Northern Virginia residents, closed one of its sections, transferring Bender's mother and about 120 other elderly patients to other state hospitals or local facilities to save an estimated $2.25 million annually.
Doctors at Western State testified in October that the hasty transfers could result in trauma and premature death for patients. And some relatives said they remain concerned that their loved ones may still suffer from the shift to unfamiliar places, although hospital officials say the move itself went smoothly and resulted in "no major incidents . . . no deaths or injuries."
For Bender, the process has caused worry and anxiety. Her mother, Magdalene Orlosky, 67, has Huntington's disease, an incurable hereditary neurological disorder that eventually causes dementia, psychosis and uncontrollable spasms.
Orlosky was transferred to Piedmont State Hospital in Burkeville, a facility state officials say is one of their best.
Although the hospital is about the same distance from Bender's home as Western State, Bender had an operation last month and could not visit her mother until two weeks after the move.
On entering Orlosky's room, Bender said, she was dismayed to find that her mother "did not appear to be as clean as I was used to seeing her." And although hospital personnel had thoughtfully installed a special shelf for her television, the set had not been hooked up.
The hospital staff agreed to bathe her mother more often, Bender said, to make sure an eye infection had not recurred, and to connect the television.
Her mother appears comfortable and seems to have taken the move well, Bender said. Hospital Director Willard R. Pierce agreed.
"We try to be very much aware" of family concerns, he said.
Although she is not happy about the change, Bender said, she is resigned to it and hopeful that with her vigilance and the willingness of the hospital, her mother's situation can be as good as it was at Western State.
""You think a situation is under control. I guess you can't get too comfortable," said Bender, who in recent years has had to cope with her late father's stroke and a late sister's separate battle with Huntington's disease.
"When you depend on state aid, you don't have a lot of recourse," she said. "Wouldn't it be nice if life didn't throw you these curves?"