Families are fighting a 10-year, $2.1 billion settlement between Virginia and the U.S. Justice Department that would close all but one of the state’s large institutions for the developmentally disabled.
Legal guardians of 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 proposed settlement, which is pending federal court review, would move hundreds of people into their own homes, their family’s homes or group homes.
The families filed a motion Friday to intervene as parties to the settlement so they have a voice in the outcome of the case and, separately, is seeking to dismiss the case, arguing that DOJ did not have standing to bring suit.
“The families’ voice should matter most, yet neither the Justice Department nor the Commonwealth sought our input with regard to the specific terms of the agreement,” said Peter Kinzler, whose son is a resident at Northern Virginia Training Center. “The parties will tell you that they talked to parents. Meeting with us to tell us what will happen is not the same as negotiating about the well being of our family members with profound needs. Intervention, if granted, would put us on equal footing with the DOJ and Virginia, which have very different interests, and allow us to be in charge of our family members’ futures, as it should be.”
A spokeswoman at the Justice Department declined to comment. Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)’s office did not immediately return a message.
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.
Tamie Hopp, director of government relations and advocacy at the VOR, a national organization that advocates for people with intellectual disabilities, said she tried to persuade the Justice Department to allow the families to have a greater say in their loved ones’s care.