The Carroll County Board of Supervisors will join forces with the Parent Advocacy and Advisory Council (PAAC) of the Southwestern Virginia Training Center in continuing efforts to keep the Hillsville facility open.
Charlotte Barkley, Executive Director of the PAAC, updated the Carroll supervisors on the efforts during a Sept. 14 meeting. Supervisors have continued to express concern about the possibility of the local training center closing in 2018 as the result of a settlement between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Prior to Barkley’s discussion, a PAAC video was shown to supervisors. The Southwestern Virginia Training Center (SWVTC) opened in Hillsville on May 3, 1976 when 100 residents transferred from Central Virginia Training Center in Lynchburg. Today, SWVTC is a self-contained community providing specialized services for approximately 124 residents. This care includes a physician onsite weekdays and on call 24 hours, nursing and direct care 24 hours daily, and an onsite medical clinic serving residents.
“Residents no longer travel hours to facilities for individualized medical care. Should an emergency occur, medical staff will stay with a resident until they are transported to an emergency room, and then staff will remain with that person until treatment occurs,” according to the video. “In a community setting, these same disabled individuals would be totally dependent on volunteer rescue squads.”
The video focused on several of the residents and the challenges they face. “Kevin,” for instance, has severe autism, and went through several community settings before placement at SWVTC. Kevin has made so much progress since 1998 when he began living at the Hillsville facility, he now considers it home, and employees and peers have become his extended family.
“His family drives nearly two hours to see him each weekend,” the video said. “If forced to travel more, timely visits would become impossible,”
“Hampton” has been diagnosed with profound mental retardation, autism and a seizure disorder. Because he does not understand or even recognize danger, he requires a safe environment with an alert staff 24 hours a day. He is non-verbal and does not do well with unfamiliar employees or too many changes within a short period of time.
“Jocelyn” is also non-verbal, and she is totally dependent on others for her basic needs such as hygiene, bathing, medicine, and eating. Her food is the consistency of baby food. Special precautions have to be taken while she is eating to keep her from choking.
“Her mother tells us, ‘I can sleep at night knowing she is watched by caring, dedicated staff. It would be heartbreaking to think of SWVTC closing,’” the video said.
Similar stories of residents were shared in the video. As Carroll County’s second-largest employer, if SWVTC closes, it will have a devastating impact on local economy.
“Job opportunities and community links that the center provide and have worked so hard to build will disappear,” the video said. “Families and legal guardians should be primary decision makers, yet we are not being heard. The decision to close our training center was an executive decision by our previous governor. With a stroke of a pen, our current governor could easily change this outcome. Before we cause irreversible harm to Virginia’s most vulnerable population, let’s join together to keep our training center open.”
Joining the PAAC
After the video, Barkley said PAAC is a 501(C)3 corporation made up of members of family, friends and caring people who want to support the intellectually and developmentally disabled people in Southwest Virginia. The residents of SWVTC are considered high needs that require medical care 24/7. Since there are no immediate care facilities in this vicinity of Southwest Virginia, they will be forced considerably east if SWVTC is closed.
Moving residents from the training center and into a community would be done so at a proportional increase in expenses for the counties and communities for which they were moved into, Barkley said. Should SWVTC be closed and residents moved into the community close to their loved ones, as mandated, then those people would be moved out of Carroll County, along with the jobs and the money associated with those jobs, Barkley said.
“Virginia has a code on the books right now that basically says a person has a right to training center placement if they or their guardian so chooses. They can’t be forced into a community setting,” Barkley said. “The SB627 bill that passed this year says basically that if somebody moves into a community, they are to receive quality care as comparable to that provided in a training center, and that cost would reside in the area they moved to.”
The ruling judge in the case, however, maintains it is still up to the Governor or General Assembly to make a change. The decision to close all but one of the state’s training centers was signed by the previous governor, she said, and could just as easily be changed by the current governor.
“All we have to do is reach one man to make a difference. We don’t have to reach all of the general assembly,” Barkley said. “With the close to 500 full- and part-time jobs SWVTC represents, that brings our tax monies back into the county, it has a multiplier effect because of all the spending and services throughout the county.”
Barkley told supervisors the PAAC has hired an attorney and a lobbyist, in addition to multiple visits to General Assembly meetings. She said the group would be appreciative with any funding help the board could offer. Personal individual letters written to the governor would also be appreciated. She asked they be sent to PAAC at P.O. Box 10, Hillsville, Va., 24343, so they could be packaged with resolutions from boards of supervisors in the region.
“We tried to work through Delegate (Jeff) Campbell’s office to work with the governor, and to make a long story short, the governor was not available to meet with us,” Carroll Board of Supervisors’ Chairman Phil McCraw said. “But we are to meet with Dr. Hazel, the Secretary of Human Services, Sept. 25 at Delegate Campbell’s office in Wytheville. This is a bad situation as we all know. And it breaks my heart to see people with severe disabilities treated that way. I’ve got MS and it is bad enough of a disability, but at this time I still have all my mental faculties. It is beyond me that the politicos of our state seem to not care.”
McCraw said the county is on a tight budget, but will take everything under advisement and see what it could come up with at a later time. He said the entire board is very interested in keeping the training center open.
Since two board members and two PAAC members will be at the Sept. 25 meeting with Dr. Hazel, McCraw suggested waiting to see how the meeting goes. That way they could get a feel of the actual situation and then brainstorm some ideas to bring back to the board in October.
Barkley thanked the board for passing a resolution of support earlier in the meeting. She said there was a reason PAAC asks that all personal letters to the governor go straight through them.
“In the past it has been shown graphically that any individual letter sent to him in support of keeping the training center open doesn’t get past the gatekeeper,” she said. “It gets handed down to Secretary Hazel and on down the line from there, and it’s a form letter that comes back from the Govenor’s office. So we are hoping to make a bigger impact with a large packet to hand to him.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN