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Should all mentally disabled be cared for in communities? Families have their say
ONE SIZE does not fit all when it comes to caring for the profoundly mentally and emotionally disabled, despite what government lawyers think. They want to close all but one of the five residential centers dedicated to caring for those severely disabled Virginians. But some families think that's a bad idea, and they deserve a say in the matter, too.
After a four-year study, the U.S. Justice Department brought a case against the commonwealth regarding the training centers where many disabled people live. These centers don't meet the "community model" of care that is currently in vogue and, therefore, say the feds, they violate federal disability laws. So behind closed doors, federal bureaucrats and state workers forged a plan to close four of the five centers by 2020, moving 1,000 of their residents into apartment-like environments in their communities.
Experts, including advocacy groups such as the Down Syndrome Association of Hampton Roads and the Autism Society of Northern Virginia, have applauded the agreement. Robert Bernstein, president of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, says that the deal "will allow people with disabilities the freedom to make choices that the rest of us take for granted."
But some parents and guardians of the disabled dispute the appropriateness of community-based care in every case. Dozens, in fact, are legitimately worried that their loved ones will suffer when the centers are closed.
General descriptions of their disabled kin in court documents show the problem: One 66-year-old man has lived at the Northern Virginia Training Center for 63 years. That's all he knows. Another, a 21-year resident of the Southwest Virginia Training Center, has severe mental and behavioral problems, including outbreaks of kicking and screaming. Still another cannot go anywhere without two attendants present. Some are scato-obsessive. How would they cope with living in an apartment within a community?
The families of many of these disabled people have tried community-based care in the past, and it has failed, reports Spotsylvania County resident Lewis Boggs ["Virginia's training centers serve many well," April 20]. He writes, "Consideration by some families of their loved ones' personal idiosyncrasies and tendencies has led them to make the valid and sound judgment that their relatives would be the very likely victims of abuse or neglect in the far less protected and overseen community system."