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RICHMOND — While specific bills to protect Virginia’s training centers have failed in the General Assembly, supporters of the facilities for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities are heartened by a Senate proposal meant to protect residents from being transferred to places with inferior care.
Former Gov. Bob McDonnell spearheaded a plan to close four of five training centers across the state and do away with all but 75 beds in Chesapeake. This plan, which resulted from the settlement of a Department of Justice lawsuit against Virginia, dismayed those with loved ones at facilities like the Southwestern Virginia Training Center in Woodlawn.
The stated goal of the training center closures has been to move residents into “community-based care.”
Delegates Israel O’Quinn and Jeff Campbell, who represent the Twin County area, submitted House Bill 592 to keep the training centers from closing, but the proposal couldn’t make it out of a subcommittee of the House’s Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions in January.
However, Wanda Robinson of Galax, a parent who has joined in lobbying against McDonnell’s plan, recently pointed out the importance of Senate Bill 627 to training center families.
SB 627, proposed by Sen. Stephen Newman (D-Forest), is intended “to ensure adequate resources are available and disclosed to training center residents prior to their transfer to another training center or community-based care,” according to the bill’s summary.
Specifically, the bill would mandate that the overseeing agency, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, shall provide “written certification” to a training center resident or guardian that:
• “the receiving training center or community-based option provides a quality of care that is comparable to that provided in the resident’s current training center.”
• “permissible placement options available under the Commonwealth’s August 23, 2012, settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, including the option to remain in a training center, have been disclosed to the training center resident or his legally authorized representative.”
• “A training center resident or his legally authorized representative may waive the certification requirement imposed in clause.”
SB 627 has so far sailed through the Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services on a 12-0 vote, with one abstention, and passed the Fiance Committee 17-0, according to General Assembly information.
The full Senate is expected to consider the proposal today, Monday.
“We feel we have very strong support and this will pass,” Robinson said in a message to The Gazette.
If approved, SB 627 promises services equal to those that training center residents are receiving now, she explained.
“In other words, if families are ‘forced’ to move their loved ones from training centers, at least the assurance will be that it won’t be to inferior care in a smaller facility without adequate staffing,” Robinson said. “Of course, Virginia state law still in effect states that residents or their guardians can choose to remain in a training center.”
If the Senate approves the proposal, then it would go to the House of Delegates for consideration.
“It has been a long journey, and it’s far from over,” Robinson wrote in an email. “But, at last, some good news for our training center families!”
Bill to lengthen mental health detentions advances
Mental health reform legislation inspired by a family tragedy that befell state Sen. Creigh Deeds last November took an important step forward on Jan. 30 when it cleared the Senate Education and Health Committee.
Deeds’ modified SB 260 would allow a person in mental health crisis to be held in emergency custody for 24 hours— six hours is the current limit — and require the state to complete development of an Internet-based psychiatric bed registry.
It also mandates state hospitals provide “bed of last resort” space for temporarily detained patients when necessary. State practice has been to first seek psychiatric bed space in private hospitals rather than turn to state hospitals that provide longer-term care.
Deeds has become symbolic of this year’s mental health reform push after his 24-year-old son, Austin “Gus” Deeds, stabbed his father before taking his own life in a violent domestic episode at their Bath County home.
That incident occurred just hours after the younger Deeds had a psychiatric evaluation and was released when no bed was found to accommodate him.
Deeds, who unsuccessfully ran for attorney general in 2005 and governor in 2009, has given emotional, first-hand accounts of the attack that left him hospitalized and its aftermath in recently televised interviews on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” program and CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”
Some of Deeds’ senate colleagues are concerned that extending the emergency custody window will cause harm in expansive rural localities by occupying law enforcement personnel on mental health calls that keep them from other public safety duties.
Sen. Bill Carrico, a Grayson County Republican and former Virginia State Police trooper, sought to amend Deeds’ bill without success.
Carrico’s proposal would have directed Virginia’s mental health agency to create pilot programs that relied on local community services board workers to take custody of people under emergency detention orders.
The reconstituted Senate Education and Health Committee, where Democrats outnumber Republicans nine to six after this week’s power shift, advanced Deeds’ bill to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.