The closing of the Northern Virginia Training Center has been delayed by one year, but training center supporters and elected officials are continuing to push for a slow-down in the state’s plan to close most of its residential facilities for people with disabilities.
Closing four of the five training centers is a key facet of a state plan crafted for a 2012 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which was investigating the state for not complying with federal protections for people with disabilities.
The plan, developed under the administration of former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) would leave only 75 beds at the Southeastern Virginia Training Center by 2020. The Southside Virginia Training Center closed in May.
Northern Virginia Training Center was originally slated to be the second of the centers to close, relocating its approximately 100 remaining residents by next June.
On July 1, the commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services wrote a letter to Northern Virginia Training Center families to let them know she was pushing the closure to March 2016.
The letter also states that she had declared the NVTC campus surplus property, which means the state can begin the process of selling it.
Jane Anthony, co-president of Parents and Associates of Northern Virginia Training Center, said she appreciates the delay and the more collaborative approach of the McAuliffe administration, but she isn’t sure the delay will provide enough time.
“Those who can do well in the community have moved,” Anthony said of training center residents. Those who are left are people with a complex mix of disabilities and behavioral issues, she said.
“They’re very hard to serve, they’re very expensive,” she said. “The community isn’t ready, especially in Northern Virginia.”
Most of Virginia’s congressional delegation signed a recent letter to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, asking him to keep the centers open until the working group completes its planning process and it is clear when community-based care options will be available.
Transitioning patients into community-based care “is not going to be done with legislative fiat overnight,” said U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va. 11th), one of the eight House of Representatives members who signed the letter.
The timeline set by the state for closing the training centers “was arbitrarily established,” the letter from the House members states.
“In the meantime, you have patients and their families needing care,” Connolly said.
Connolly said he does support the long-term goal of having sufficient community-based care to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities, but that he believes more time is needed to work through the process.
Developing new community-based care options in Northern Virginia is particularly challenging, due to the higher costs for land and real estate here.
The work group, which began meeting this month and will meet again in August and September, is considering other options for current training center residents, including potentially keeping additional training centers open.
Anthony said she would like the state to retain a portion of the Northern Virginia Training Center campus and “right-size” it to continue to provide residential services for the small number of people who would not do well in other settings.
The facility also has many services, including therapy and dental care, that could be useful to other people with disabilities who don’t reside at the center, Anthony said.
“I think we have to come up with some creative and innovative solutions,” she said.