Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Editorial: Better care for more people
Virginia has a history of failed behavioral health reforms but now has an opportunity to get it right.
From the RoundTable blog
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Thousands of intellectually and developmentally disabled Virginians and their families have a chance finally to receive community-based services under a legal settlement approved last week by a federal judge. The agreement averts a threatened lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice against the commonwealth for warehousing 949 men and women in large institutions far from their communities.
Advocates with the Arc of Virginia hailed the settlement as "another significant milestone in Virginia's long overdue journey toward a community-based system."
Some families with relatives in state training centers sought to block the settlement. Their actions are perplexing only to those unfamiliar with the tragic history of Virginia's behavioral health system. Past milestones were kicked aside once federal prosecutors and judges became distracted by problems in other states. Virginia leaders downsized institutions but failed to reinvest the savings in housing, respite assistance for caregivers and employment training.
That past cannot be justification for accepting the status quo as the best the commonwealth is capable of providing for the most fragile Virginians. Rather, it must be the motivating force for embracing reform with vigor while good intentions are fresh.
Virginia officials plan to shutter four of their five training centers over the next eight years, trailing behind other states that long ago rejected institutionalization as inhumane. Central Virginia Training Center in Lynchburg will be the last to close in 2020. More than 80 individuals have already been moved out of those institutions and into group homes, independent living arrangements or other housing alternatives.
While the focus has been on institutionalized individuals, the settlement offers hope to thousands of others desperate for help. More than 6,000 intellectually disabled individuals are on a waiting list for services, and 3,685 are deemed "urgent" by the state. In most cases, that means elderly parents who care for disabled children are no longer physically able to continue or are looking for a permanent placement after their death. Another 1,100 families with developmentally disabled children are also in need.
The settlement orders support for 4,170 of those on waiting lists, a majority. If the task seems daunting, that is only because the state has waited so long to embrace comprehensive reforms. The opportunity now exists to offer better care to more people. It's up to all Virginians to make sure their leaders' good intentions don't wane before that goal is achieved.