Saturday, January 10, 2009

Guest Column: Keep CCCA Open for Kids, Their Families

VA Gov Kaine plans closure of State's only publicly-funded mental-health facility for troubled youth

In the shadow of the Virginia Tech tragedy, in a time when the state had vowed to reform a mental-health care system that allowed troubled young shooter Cho Seung Hui to "slip through its cracks," Virginia's Governor is now planning to dynamite that "crack" into a veritable chasm, by closing the state's only state-run, public mental-health facility for children within the entire state. The Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents, a modern 48-bed hospital in Staunton, has long served as the "safety net" for children and adolescents from all over the state who desperately need inpatient mental-health evaluation and treatment, but who are unable to be accepted by - or to remain at - private facilities or community-based programs.

These children are typically from families - often underprivileged - who either have no private insurance, yet are not eligible for Medicaid; or who have seen their benefits run out, resulting in discharge or transfer from such facilities. A frequent common-denominator is that many are children who other facilities have been completely unable to manage and care for effectively, unpredictably aggressive children, with violent behaviors. Additionally, Virginia's juvenile courts often refer teens who have charges pending against them, for mental-health evaluation.

This is not a long-term care facility. The average length of stay at the center is typically less than a month.

Without this facility, many very troubled children will have no where else to turn for help.

The consequences of this plan are troubling: a possible increase in teen suicides; a rise in the juvenile incarceration rate; and the downward spiralling of precious young lives.

A "town-hall" style meeting was held on Wednesday, Jan. 7 at the CCCA, in which employees of the center, mental-health professionals in the community, parents of children treated at the center(past & present), and other members of the community voiced their empassioned concerns about the closing of this vital facility. VA Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Jim Reinhard, and Secretary of Health and Human Resources Marilyn Tavenner had traveled from Richmond to discuss the plans to close the CCCA with employees and the general public.

A common theme of the comments, questions and criticisms was directed at the state's apparent lack of any real concrete contingency plan; i.e. what the state can or will do, once the facility has been closed, to ensure that high-risk children and teens who are in need of such services, are not turned away by private hospitals and/or community-based agencies, as they always have been up to now. Many believe that high-risk, combative children and adolescents will simply wind up in juvenile detention, where some may attempt suicide, and all will not be receiving the mental-health care that they so desperately need.

On a separate note, questions were raised regarding the 2009 VA State Budget assigning a value of $12 million to (for the sale of) the 28-acre CCCA property; and the "co-incidental" plan of the city of Staunton to see this land developed commercially, as part of a huge new retail shopping, restaurant and lodging "multi-use" complex, alongside Interstate 81's Staunton exit 222. Both matters were announced the same day, within hours of each other. Some wonder if this could represent the true motive behind the planned closing of this facility: a thinly-disguised case of "eminent domain".

- Rick Gibson
The writer is a former employee of the CCCA. Versions of this piece have appeared in other publications.

Related stories…
  • Campaign for the Commonwealth Center (Jan. 6, WVIR-TV, Charlottesville)
  • Parents, Employees Speak Out About CCCA (Jan. 9, WHSV-TV, Harrisonburg)

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  • Comments:
    Kaine stated he “wants to close the center and create services in the community outside of an institution.”

    If it is necessary to “create services in the community” he is admitting that they do not now exist. At this point, private providers are not required to extend service to at risk children.

    Kaine also said "We believe many of them can actually receive services where their families are. They don't need to be institutionalized."

    If it were true that “many of them can actually receive services where their families are” wouldn’t these children already be served locally?

    What will save this hospital from being bulldozed into the ground along with the disadvantaged children that are treated there?

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