Petition, letter to governor among efforts to keep training centers open

July 19, 2013

A letter to Governor Bob McDonnell and an online petition are among the new efforts to keep Virginia’s training centers open, including the Southwestern Virginia Training Center in Carroll County.

Leaders of the family groups representing residents at the four Training Centers the Commonwealth has scheduled for closure sent a letter to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell on July 9 calling on him to suspend the arbitrary timetable for closure of the centers and stop the coercive practices designed to force the residents to move into the community before it is prepared to meet their needs.

Additionally, an online petition to keep the state’s training centers open aims to collect 10,000 signatures to send to outgoing Governor McDonnell, the incoming Governor and the General Assembly. The Southwestern Virginia Training Center is currently scheduled to be closed by 2018, and all four centers are set to be closed by 2020.

The petition was started by Maurine Houser of Reston, who states the five training centers provide safe and supportive environments for more than 800 individuals with significant intellectual disabilities (ID), most of whom also have either severe behavioral problems or complex medical needs.

“Virginia has decided to close four of the centers on an arbitrary schedule, before good placements have been found for each and every resident. If a community placement is not found for a resident by the stated closure date, Virginia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) has said that the resident will be sent to another training center many hours away from family and their communities, only to await its closure,” Reston writes in the petition. “Virginia is continuing down this path even though the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and federal District Court Judge John Gibney have stated that the DOJ-Virginia Settlement Agreement to increase community living options for people with ID does not require the closure of these training centers, and that the final decision resides in the hands of the General Assembly. While the General Assembly supports strong measures to assure quality care for those who choose community placements, it has not endorsed this closure plan.”

Nonetheless, the DBHDS continues to pressure representatives of training center residents to move their medically fragile and severely disabled loved ones into communities that are not ready to receive them, Reston claims. Several Community Service Boards, which provide pre-admission screening, have stated that they are not able to provide services for this population on such a short schedule and with the current Medicaid stipend per person (Medicaid waiver).

“While Virginia plans to seek an enriched Medicaid waiver, any new waiver will not be ready before scheduled closures,” Reston continues. “Inadequate waivers hurt all disabled Virginians; those already in the community on waiting lists for services, and those being discharged from training centers without adequate and necessary services in place.”

The petition asks Virginia residents and interested parties 18 or older to sign. It asks the next Governor and General Assembly to:

-Slow down the closure process and take a closer look at the needs of Virginia’s most vulnerable and fragile population.

- Remove the arbitrary, unrealistic timeline for discharge

- To not transfer individuals many hours away from their families

- To consider all options, including downsizing current training centers and sharing grounds with other groups needing similar services to achieve economies of scale.

- To consider the hundreds of lost jobs of highly skilled Virginians if the training centers close.

More information and a link to the petition can be found at

Letter to Governor McDonnell

The letter to Governor McDonnell states that “respecting the rights of the Authorized Representatives (ARs) to make free and informed choices is not only the legally correct thing to do [in accordance with the Settlement Agreement approved by Judge Gibney on August 23, 2012], but also the morally correct one.”

It goes on to say that a policy shift from arbitrary administrative scheduling to one of acting when quality community supports are in place “would yield much better results for our most vulnerable citizens.”

There letter states there is pressure on the residents of the Southwestern Virginia Training Center, which offers only the option of sponsored homes, and Central Virginia Training Center, whose 75 residents requiring skilled nursing care lack an alternative placement with comparable care. The letter to the Governor also cites many other examples of coercion, such as revised, less severe diagnoses for some residents; the failure of key documents to disclose the right to remain in a Training Center; DBHDS directives to social workers to call ARs frequently to encourage community placement; and DBHDS staff encouragement to ARs to move residents “while there are still good placements.”

The letter points out that many Community Services Boards agree that the communities are unprepared to properly care for people who wish to leave the Training Centers. In addition, the letter identifies major flaws in the DBHDS cost analyses that have misled legislators into believing that care in the community is far less expensive than in TrainingCenters.

Familes are asking the Governor to take the following actions:

• Immediately stop all efforts to coerce authorized representatives (ARs) into accepting community placements for their residents;

• Make sure that all assessment documents accurately reflect resident needs;

• Make sure that ARs are aware of their legal right to make an informed choice of residences, including the option to continue to receive care in a Training Center;

• Qualify the closure schedule to establish a policy of adequate preparation of the community to serve Training Center residents with complex needs before closing a Training Center;

• Prevent any administratively driven transfer of a Training Center resident out of that Training Center when the community is not ready to provide necessary supports;

• Immediately conduct an independent survey of all ARs to determine whether they wish their loved ones to remain in their current Training Center or another Training Center, or move into the local community; and

• Secure an independent analysis of the DBHDS cost figures.