Feds Reach $2 Billion Settlement on Institutionalizing Disabled Virginia

Virginia will shutter four of its five institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and provide community-based services to thousands of people over the next decade as part of an estimated $2 billion settlement reached today with the federal government.

In what an assistant U.S. attorney general described as a “landmark agreement” that will serve as national model, Virginia will add 4,170 new waiver slots to help move people from state training centers to community-based care, and to prevent the institutionalization of people on a waiting list for services.

The agreement follows a years-long Justice Department investigation that started in 2008 by looking into the state’s training centers and expanded in scope in 2010. In February 2011, the Justice Department issued a damaging report that found, among other things, that hundreds of mentally and physically challenged people were languishing in state facilities.

As part of this agreement, through  which Virginia will avoid costly litigation, the state will also greatly expand crisis services and support to help people once they transition into community-based care settings.

“We do have a lot of work ahead of us,” Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel told reporters. “I would not characterize this for our part as a victory lap. But it’s more of a step in the direction of doing what we need to be doing.”

Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights division, said the agreement will bring Virginia into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, provide quality living options and help the state deliver services more cost effectively.

It costs about $216,000 to care for someone in a training center compared with $75,000 on average to serve someone in a community-based setting, Perez said.

Of the $2 billion estimated settlement cost, federal funds will account for $935 million. The state estimates that through savings from closing the facilities, as well as investments made to a trust fund and new waiver slots, the net cost to the state will be $587 million.

That includes about $246 million in federal funds, bringing the general fund obligation to $341 million, according to the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

The General Assembly last year put $30 million into a trust fund to help transition people with intellectual disabilities to community-based care and Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed adding another $30 million to the fund in his proposed two-year budget.

Currently, 1,018 people live in state training centers that have a capacity of 6,000 according to the McDonnell administration.

A timeline for closing the training centers has the Southside Virginia Training Center in Petersburg slated to close by June 30, 2014, the Northern Virginia Training Center in Fairfax County by June 30, 2015, the Southwestern Virginia Training Center in Hillsville by June 30, 2018, and the Central Virginia Training Center in Lynchburg by June 30, 2020.

The Southeastern Virginia Training Center in Chesapeake will remain open and downsize to 75 beds.

The state will try to help the 3,050 employees at the four training centers that will close find positions at other facilities, agencies or community-based services. The Department of Behavioral Health will work with state lawmakers to determine what to do with the center sites when they become available, according to a spokeswoman.