On Jan. 26, 2012 a historic agreement was reached by the state of Virginia and the United States Department of Justice about an investigation which had been taking place since 2008. The subject of the investigation had to do with the state’s alleged violation of the Olmstead Act, which requires that individuals with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. With five training centers that serve the intellectually disabled, Virginia has continued to work under the archaic model of institutionalization, as opposed to developing a strong network of community based programs which have been proven to be both more effective and more cost efficient.
Originally, the investigation centered on one location, the Central Virginia Training Center in Lynchburg. However, by the time the findings letter was published in Feb. 2011, light had been shed on the failure of Virginia’s whole system. With 6,000 people sitting on a waiting lists to receive Medicaid services, half of whom are considered to have urgent needs, the state continued to support people in these institutional settings at a cost three times more than if they were being served in community based programs.
After almost one year of negotiations an agreement was announced during Virginia’s short annual legislative session. The uncertainty of what the agreement would entail initially made the budgetary process more challenging than normal (if that could be possible). The McDonnell administration should be applauded for commiting the state to some very difficult and in some cases very unpopular decisions. However, the bottom line is, Virginia has agreed to close all but one of its institutions and expand community based programs. In addition, there is a verbal commitment to work toward clearing the waiting lists which grow at a rate of 800 people per year.
All of this sounds wonderful for the disabled community and to the family members who need support but want their loved ones at home or nearby. However, the heavy lifting has yet to begin. If the transition of individuals out of the training centers is done without a strong community based system already in place, this whole effort could be a monumental failure. The state must spend some money to subsequently save money. Our lawmakers are under constant pressure from special interest groups of all shapes and sizes. “Give us money!” “Stop spending money!” One thing we all should keep in mind; our most vulnerable citizens, the disabled, were the one group of people who the founding fathers said should have special consideration from the government.