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Advocates tout community mental health care
Mental health activists at assembly

Date published: 2/16/2010

By Chelyen Davis

RICHMOND

--Mental health activists rallied at the General Assembly yesterday, urging lawmakers not to devote money to building a costly new institution but instead to put that money into caring for the disabled in their communities.

"Individuals do much better, they grow, they're happier when they're involved with the community," said Jayne Redelman, president of the board of the ARC of the Rappahannock.

Redelman and several other Fredericksburg-area activists came to Richmond for the ARC of Virginia's rally and lobbying of legislators.

According to the ARC of Virginia, the state budget proposed by former Gov. Tim Kaine contains more than $270 million in cuts to community-based services, impacting more than 15,000 families in the state who receive services or are waiting for services, while allocating more money for institutions. The ARC thinks that money would be better spent on community-based services, keeping people near their families.

In particular, ARC is protesting a plan to rebuild a new $23 million, 75-bed institution in Chesapeake, something the ARC says is a waste of money and a regression to outmoded ways of caring for intellectually disabled people. Once, those people were almost always shipped off to institutions, separated from their families for the rest of their lives. Now the movement is toward keeping them home, with services within their own communities to help families care for them.

Other state budget cuts will slice 5 percent off community service board funding, reduce pay for in-home caregivers, reduce state-funded respite care hours, and freeze funding for new waivers for the intellectually and developmentally disabled. A "waiver" allows a disabled person to access community services.

The waiting list for waivers is long--almost 6,000 people statewide are waiting for waiver services, including about 250 in the Fredericksburg area.

Spotsylvania resident Rhonda Morgan's daughter Whitney, 23, has been on the waiver waiting list for six years.

Morgan wants Whitney to have the chance to socialize with peers at an activities center, and have increasing levels of community-based support as Morgan and her husband get older.

"A waiver would get her out of us being her only form of entertainment," Morgan said.

But, Morgan said, budget cuts threaten even the help the Morgans get for Whitney as it is now. Their caregiver's salary will be cut, as will other help, like the two boxes of adult diapers they receive every month for Whitney.

State lawmakers have tried to add more waivers in recent years, but tough economic times have led to the cuts now faced by mental health services.

Lawmakers from the House and Senate budget committees will unveil their own budget proposals this coming Sunday.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028
Email: cdavis@freelancestar.com