Tuesday, December 6, 2005

RICHMOND — Gov. Mark Warner yesterday announced $500 million in proposed spending to replace aging or outdated mental health hospitals and training centers for the mentally retarded.

The money would replace at a cost of $290 million Western State Hospital in Staunton, Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, the Central Virginia Training Center in Lynchburg and the Southeastern Virginia Training Center at Chesapeake.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, also proposed $115 million for community-based centers for the mentally retarded.

The funding, combined with $52 million from the federal government, would make available nearly $170 million for home or community-based treatment.

Together, Mr. Warner’s initiative represents the largest one-time investment in Virginia’s often-troubled mental health system, a move that delighted lawmakers whose districts include the facilities and advocates for the disabled.

“Unless we can step up and bite the bullet on some of our aging institutions now when we have some financial resources, when we can make the significant transition investment in community-based care, then it’s our belief … it might be another decade before we have a chance to do what we are proposing today,” Mr. Warner said.

Mr. Warner is using the money from budget surpluses that topped $500 million for the fiscal year that ended last year and are expected to reach or exceed $1 billion for the current budget year.

While the new construction is planned over four years, Mr. Warner said the general fund appropriations for it will appear in the two-year budget he introduces next week. That budget will be the last of his single, nonrenewable term.

Aside from a substantial improvement in care and new buildings and equipment, the investment won’t eliminate any existing state jobs.

Delegate L. Preston Bryant, Lynchburg Republican, was delighted by the governor’s announcement. He was among 13 legislators from across the state who traveled icy roads to hear the news.

“The Central Virginia Training Center is one of the oldest and largest. It has about 1,700 state employees, and many of them live in my district,” Mr. Bryant said.

“And there are about 500 people who live there, more importantly.

“That facility being so old and so large, it’s very expensive to maintain … and we’ve been sitting on the edge of our seats expecting it to be at least partially closed at some point,” Mr. Bryant said.

Mr. Warner said that in addition to replacing the state’s massive and forbidding hospitals built at the turn of the 20th century on sprawling compounds with bright, modern clinics on much smaller tracts of land, the money will allow for far more patients to receive care in homey surroundings in their own communities.

Virginia is trying to move from the current ratio of one patient in community-based care for every institutionalized one to at least two patients in community care for each one who is hospitalized.

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