Disabilities settlement praised; Dinwiddie institution marked for closure

DINWIDDIE, VA (WWBT) – A landmark deal is hailed by advocates for the mentally disabled, but it brings a Tri-Cities area institution to an end.

Virginia will close four homes for the mentally disabled as part of a ten-year settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The $2 billion deal means the state will avoid expensive litigation. But there's another cost involved: The end of the Southside Virginia Training Center in Dinwiddie County.

Word spread quickly throughout the sprawling campus that the days at SVTC, and elsewhere, are numbered. Earlier, a deal was announced. It resolved a three-year investigation that found Virginia violated federal law, by "warehousing" the mentally disabled in institutions, instead of community-based settings.

In announcing the deal, Gov. Bob McConnell said it provides more services, so those with disabilities, "…can live successfully in their home communities."

Lynne Seward, CEO of A Grace Place in Henrico County, also hailed the settlement as a milestone victory.

"It is civil rights for people with disabilities. So it is huge," Seward said.

Seward, and others, have long fought for the rights of the intellectually disabled, including at annual public hearings before state lawmakers. They've said community based care provides for a better future.

"Community based care means you can have a life like everybody else's. Like yours. And have the supports that are necessary to keep that life safe and successful so you can live in that community," Seward said.

According to the Associated Press, of the $2 billion it will take to implement the settlement agreement, $935 million would come from the federal government. Officials hope the money saved by closing the facilities will bring the state's total cost down to about $340 million over the 10 years.

The Southside Virginia Training Center will be the first of four Virginia facilities to close. The target date is June of 2014. The remaining three centers will be gone by the year 2020...affecting more than one thousand patients, their caretakers, and administrators.

The other institutions slated to close are located in Fairfax, Hillsville, and Lynchburg. A center in Chesapeake will remain open.

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