U.S. of­fi­cials prod Vir­ginia over fund­ing for the dis­abled

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY AN­TO­NIO OLIVO

The Jus­tice Depart­ment says Vir­ginia is not be­ing se­ri­ous enough about ef­forts to com­ply with court-or­dered re­forms to its pro­gram for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

A let­ter to the fed­eral judge over­see­ing a 2012 fed­eral set­tle­ment, sent by the Jus­tice Depart­ment last month, points as ev­i­dence to the way the state has used pro­ceeds from the sale of state-run in­sti­tu­tions that treated peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties.

Un­der a 2014 Vir­ginia code adopted as part of the state’s ef­forts to help peo­ple be­ing moved out of those in­sti­tu­tions to adapt to life in­side pri­vate group homes or reg­u­lar com­mu­nity set­tings, money from the prop­erty sales is meant to go to­ward pro­vid­ing more ser­vices for that pop­u­la­tion.

But the state gained zero dol­lars for dis­abled res­i­dents from the $5.4 mil­lion sale of a shut­tered in­sti­tu­tional site in Ch­e­sa­peake, Va., this year, the Jus­tice Depart­ment said.

In­stead, the money was used to cover a re­duc­tion of that same

amount in the bud­get of the Depart­ment of Be­hav­ioral Health and De­vel­op­ment Ser­vices, the agency in charge of dis­abil­i­ties pro­grams in Vir­ginia.

Rel­a­tives and ad­vo­cates for the dis­abled say they fear the state might do the same if it finds a buyer for the site of another in­sti­tu­tion — the 78-acre North­ern Vir­ginia Train­ing Cen­ter near Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity that has been as­sessed at $24 mil­lion.

“If there’s not any as­sur­ance that the funds will go back into ex­pand­ing ser­vices, that’s ob­vi­ously a big con­cern,” said Rikki Ep­stein, head of the North­ern Vir­ginia chap­ter of the Arc, a na­tional non­profit group for peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties. “That is the whole pur­pose of the DOJ set­tle­ment agree­ment: to ex­pand com­mu­nity ser­vices for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.”

Maria Rep­pas, a spokes­woman for the Depart­ment of Be­hav­ioral Health and De­vel­op­men­tal Ser­vices, said the $5.4 mil­lion trans­fer was “a one-time ac­tion” over which her agency had no con­trol.

State bud­get in­struc­tions from the Gen­eral Assem­bly, she said, or­dered the depart­ment to use the pro­ceeds from the Ch­e­sa­peake sale to make up what the depart­ment had lost in its gen­eral fund ap­pro­pri­a­tions for fis­cal 2015.

Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suf­folk), who chairs the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, said that be­cause the trust fund money was re­moved, the Gen­eral Assem­bly has in­creased the depart­ment’s over­all fund­ing by a to­tal of $60 mil­lion.

“We have taken those dol­lars and they have been used in those ar­eas of ser­vices as re­quired by the set­tle­ment,” Jones said.

North­ern Vir­ginia law­mak­ers said they plan to seek a bet­ter mech­a­nism to en­sure that pro­ceeds from the land sales are kept in the state trust fund set up for that pur­pose. “We have to play it straight with these folks,” said state Sen. Bar­bara A. Favola (D-Ar­ling­ton).

Vir­ginia is among the last states in the coun­try to ini­ti­ate re­forms un­der a 1999 Supreme Court rul­ing that re­quires peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties to be moved out of gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions and into com­mu­nity set­tings.

Since the state en­tered into the 2012 set­tle­ment agree­ment, of­fi­cials have re­lo­cated into pri­vate group homes nearly half of the 1,118 peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties who were liv­ing in­side its five staterun “train­ing cen­ters.”

Another 17,000 dis­abled Vir­gini­ans who did not live in the train­ing cen­ters are also af­fected by the court set­tle­ment, which calls for mak­ing it eas­ier for all peo­ple who are ei­ther re­ceiv­ing state aid or on the wait list for that as­sis­tance to in­te­grate into com­mu­nity set­tings.

Last month, a court-ap­pointed in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor of the re­forms said Med­i­caid waivers pro­vided by Vir­ginia do not ad­e­quately cover the costs of treat­ment and liv­ing ex­penses for the dis­abled, par­tic­u­larly in ex­pen­sive North­ern Vir­ginia.

The mon­i­tor said the state has dragged its heels in im­ple­ment­ing a re­design of its Med­i­caid waiver sys­tem that would in­crease the re­im­burse­ment rates. He also said that the state isn’t pro­vid­ing enough new Med­i­caid waivers to meet the needs of a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in Vir­ginia. There are nearly 10,000 peo­ple on a wait list for those vouch­ers.

De­bra Fer­gu­son, com­mis­sioner of the Depart­ment of Be­hav­ioral Health and De­vel­op­men­tal Sciences, de­clined to be in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle. But she said in an e-mailed state­ment that “the depart­ment is com­mit­ted to im­ple­ment­ing the set­tle­ment agree­ment in a thought­ful and de­lib­er­ate man­ner” and is work­ing to re­design the Med­i­caid waiver sys­tem to bet­ter ad­dress res­i­dents’ needs.

In the mean­time, lo­cal gov­ern­ments say they’ve been forced to shoul­der much of the bur­den of pro­vid­ing dis­abil­ity ser­vices. Fair­fax County — home to the largest num­ber of peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties in the state — spends about $11.5 mil­lion per year on those ser­vices. County of­fi­cials say they’re lob­by­ing state law­mak­ers to guar­an­tee that the pro­ceeds from the sale of the North­ern Vir­ginia Train­ing Cen­ter go to­ward off­set­ting some of those costs.

The county also is seek­ing to part­ner with po­ten­tial buy­ers of the site to cre­ate a mixed-use de­vel­op­ment that would in­cor­po­rate ser­vices for dis­abled or el­derly res­i­dents. The train­ing cen­ter, which houses 56 peo­ple, is sched­uled to close in March.

“Money from any sale needs to go into fund­ing com­mu­nity re­sources to han­dle the in­flux,” said Sharon Bulova, chair­man of the county Board of Su­per­vi­sors. “Al­ready, it’s chal­leng­ing for us to meet our ex­ist­ing needs.” She called the trans­fer of $5.4 mil­lion from the trust fund to the state agency bud­get “just plain out­ra­geous.”

Bar­bara Hill agreed to move her cousin, Ken­neth Wil­son, more than 100 miles away to a fa­cil­ity in Way­nes­boro, Va., in 2013, when he was trans­ferred out of the North­ern Vir­ginia Train­ing Cen­ter af­ter liv­ing there for 25 years.

Wil­son, who was epilep­tic and had se­vere cere­bral palsy, died of a heart at­tack less than a month later, Hill said. He was 49.

“The peo­ple who make the de­ci­sion to move these clients, they re­ally don’t know what’s in their mind, and how a move like that would af­fect them,” Hill said.

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