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Posted at 4:15 PM ET, 02/16/2011

In wake of DOJ report, McDonnell proposes spending money to move developmentally disabled to community-based care

By Anita Kumar and Rosalind S. Helderman

In response to a scathing report by the U.S. Department of Justice released Friday, Gov. Bob McDonnell is asking state legislators to set aside money to move residents from institutions that house developmentally disabled people to community-based care.

McDonnell (R) has not asked for a specific amount of money but budget negotiators from the Republican-led House of Delegates and the Democratic-controlled Senate will hash out a number before the annual legislative session is scheduled to end Feb. 26.

The bills -- introduced on McDonnell's behalf Wednesday -- are designed to send a signal to the Justice Department, which recommended the number of developmentally disabled people living in the state's five training centers across Virginia be reduced as quickly as possible.

The Justice report released by the state Friday said the state has harmed residents by keeping people in large institutions instead of providing smaller, community-based homes.

Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and Sen. Ralph S. Northam (D-Norfolk) introduced the bill, which call for residents to move from training centers, including the Northern Virginia Training Center on Braddock Road in Fairfax County, to group homes or to live at home and attend day programs.

The bill would also require the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to submit semi-annual reports to the governor and chairmen of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees on the plan.

Sen. Stephen D. Newman (R-Lynchburg), whose district includes the Central Virginia Training Center, rose to deliver a moving floor speech Wednesday about the consequences for the 400 severely disabled residents of the facility if DOJ ultimately requires Virginia to close its institutions, as he predicted will occur. He said the move to serve more disabled adults in the community has been beneficial for many -- but said he believes some parents want the choice of institutional care for those most severally disabled.

"No one on the other side of the Potomac loves the people in these facilities more than we do," Newman said.

After he concluded, Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) rose to offer bipartisan agreement to the sentiment, noting that he too believes it would be a mistake to force the Northern Virginia Training Facility to close.

"There is just no way some of those folks can be moved into community settings," he said. "It's absurd."

As the Senate recessed its daily session, senators of both parties gathered around Newman to tell him how moved they were by his remarks.

Keith Hare, deputy secretary of the health and human resources, said the administration was expecting the Justice Department report. It arrived Thursday evening and was made public Friday. Some legislators suggested the proposal to McDonnell when he spoke to them Monday, Hare said.

McDonnell has already asked legislators to include $30 million in the two-year budget for almost 300 slots to the program that funds individualized community services, bolster oversight of community providers and create crisis intervention programs across the state for people with developmental disabilities who might otherwise be returned to an institution.

By Anita Kumar and Rosalind S. Helderman  | February 16, 2011; 4:15 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar, General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Robert F. McDonnell, Rosalind Helderman, State Senate  
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