Among those closely watching this week’s unfolding drama at the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board are families who have loved ones live in the embattled Northern Virginia Training Center, one of five large state institutions for people with severe disabilities.
The U.S. Department of Justice has targeted four of the state institutions for closure under the theory that people with disabilities should be integrated as fully into society as possible. A proposed legal agreement reached by the state and the federal government in January is awaiting final approval before U.S. District Court Judge John Gibney in Richmond.
But many families whose children receive care in the state institutions are battling to keep them open. They believe the large institutions, with special facilities and round-the-clock intensive care, are the best places for people whose disabilities can make them a danger to themselves or others. Given Virginia’s spotty record of funding services for disabled people, these families say the Justice Department has overstepped its bounds in a fight that hinges on ideology as much as dollars and cents.
“You’re going to tell us that the state, which has a historically poor record on funding, is going to move people out into the community? It just isn’t credible,” said Peter Kinzler, 69, of Hollin Hills. He said deepening financial troubles with Fairfax County’s Community Services Board only reinforces the argument that people with disabilities could be turned out into a community whose resources for care are inadequate.
On Tuesday, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors grilled George Braunstein, the CSB’s executive director, over a budget gap projected to widen to nearly $9.5 million in fiscal 2013, which begins July 1. But the board also endorsed a tentative course of action that could involve closing shelters, limiting services and reducing staff. Public hearings are planned beginning June 4. Braunstein said the budget gaps have been caused by huge demands for social services after the 2007-09 recession and inadequate funding commitments, primarily from the state.
Some advocates for the disabled say that’s why the Justice Department should reconsider efforts to close Virginia’s largest institutions.
Virginia entered a 10-year, $2.1 billion settlement with the Justice Department that calls for closing four of Virginia’s five state institutions for the developmentally disabled and moving the residents into their own homes, their family’s homes, group homes or community-based settings. A broad coalition of groups, including the Arc of Northern Virginia, support the proposed settlement.
But Kinzler said his 37-year-old son, Jason, who has a severe neurological disorder, has received good care at the Northern Virginia Training Center since 1978. Kinzler belongs to a group of families, known as the Parents and Associates of the Northern Virginia Training Center, who are fighting efforts to close the institution.
“One, we’re very satisfied with the care. And two, we see what’s going on in the community,” Kinzler said. He said the group has raised more than $150,000 to challenge the agreement in court.
On May 9, Judge Gibney agreed to allow the families to intervene in the legal case between Virginia and the Justice Department. The families - specifically, 13 parents whose children live in Virginia’s five institutions -- have since filed a motion to dismiss the case. Their status as litigants also allows them to present evidence to show why they think their loved ones will be worse off if the state closes the training centers.
The families have also been pushing on the political front. In a March 27 letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Reps. James P. Moran (D-Va.) and Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va) cited the families’ concerns in objecting to the proposed legal settlement.