Searching for ‘The New Virginia Way’

Searching for ‘The New Virginia Way’

Need to change the way Virginia supports people with disabilities.

An individual with a disability and his caregiver wearing ‘I Support The New Virginia Way’ stickers at the Martin Luther King Day Rally in Richmond.

An individual with a disability and his caregiver wearing ‘I Support The New Virginia Way’ stickers at the Martin Luther King Day Rally in Richmond. Photo courtesy of The Arc of Virginia

In light of Virginia’s settlement with the Department of Justice over Virginia’s state institutions for people with disabilities, also known as training centers, it is time for us to enter “The New Virginia Way.” We must focus on building community supports and capacity for those leaving the training centers and for the 7,500 families on waiting lists for state Medicaid waivers.

"The New Virginia Way" means changing the way Virginia supports people with disabilities from an under-funded, complicated system to a comprehensive community support structure. Right now, there are not enough supports available for every individual in the community. In fact, this lack of community options was a large part of the reason the DOJ investigated Virginia and found it violates the civil rights of people with disabilities.

The DOJ settlement and “The New Virginia Way” will ensure community supports are done correctly. The settlement is a legally enforceable agreement that holds Virginia responsible for making sure every person transitioning to community-based care has the supports they need lined up before they move. If the Independent Reviewer overseeing implementation feels that Virginia is falling short, the case goes back to court. Judge John Gibney, who is overseeing the settlement, has made clear his commitment to protecting the rights of everyone involved and ensuring all requirements are met.

It is worth noting that since the settlement, the General Assembly has funded more waivers than the minimum mandated by the settlement. The governor's current budget proposal includes rate differentials for individuals who have intense behavioral and nursing needs, and the state is hiring a consultant to redesign the waivers to provide more comprehensive services with adequate reimbursement rates. This demonstrates a step forward.

Increasingly, service providers have dedicated themselves to supporting individuals with significant needs. Some specialize in helping individuals with a history of significant behavioral challenges and others have nurses on staff to support individuals with complex medical concerns. Several have begun to expand since the settlement to help individuals transition.

The settlement encourages creativity and smaller, customized supports. We need to consider sponsored placements and apartments with 24-hour staffing. These housing models are already working in Virginia and can be established affordably and quickly.

Over a dozen states have no institutions and most have closed at least one. We have great role models for institutional closure, an Independent Reviewer with decades of experience in making transitions a reality, a settlement that mandates safe and appropriate supports, and thousands of advocates dedicated to making sure we support everyone the right way.

This settlement is a landmark opportunity to ensure Virginia is changed for the better forever. That will happen when we all put our energy towards making “The New Virginia Way” reality.

Rikki Epstein is Executive Director at The Arc of Northern Virginia. Kymberly DeLoatche is executive director at the Autism Society of Northern Virginia