- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

RICHMOND The state would close wings in five mental hospitals over the next 18 months and shift hundreds of patients in them to community-based, state-funded care programs under a proposal Gov. Mark R. Warner made yesterday.
Legislation the governor will submit to the General Assembly next month calls for taking the savings from shutting down the wings at the institutions and giving it to programs run by cities and counties across Virginia.
None of the institutions, however, will be shuttered, Mr. Warner said on his monthly call-in show, "Ask the Governor," on WTOP Radio in Washington.
"For a long time now, it's been known that mental health services are better performed in the community than they are in institutions, that the quality of life of a person with mental illness and the family is much, much higher in community-based [care]," Mr. Warner said.
"We in Virginia have been a little bit slow in moving our resources from institutional care to community-based care. On average, about two-thirds of most states' funds are spent on community care. In Virginia, that ratio is only about 55 percent community care and 45 percent institutional care," he said.
The plan, however, provides no new money for mental health and is proffered as the state struggles to close a budget shortfall that has ballooned to $2 billion.
As part of his $858 million in budget cuts announced Oct. 15, Mr. Warner left the state's large mental hospitals almost untouched but cut about $30 million from community mental-health, mental-retardation and substance-abuse services through 2004.
"We're going to see the restoration of a lot of the funds that were cut from community-based care back in October," Mr. Warner said.
Steering more resources to local programs is laudable, said Valerie Marsh, state executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, but the governor is addressing only half of a twofold issue in the approach he is taking.
"In terms of the future of Virginia's mental health system, what he's doing has the potential to be good if it is done right. We don't have the details and the devil is in the details, but it is a progressive thing to do," she said.
The shift from institutional programs to community care, however, doesn't make up for the cuts made to the Community Service Boards, the local panels that oversee the local care programs, she said.
"Those cuts in October left 12,000 people out in the cold," Miss Marsh said. "We're getting the calls about the suicides. We're getting the calls about the people who are being jailed. We're getting the calls about these people out on the street.
"It's really hard for me to jump up and down with joy over system reform when we have just relegated 12,000 human beings in the commonwealth to [oblivion]," she said.

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