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Richmond in Works to Develop Mental Health Overhaul Plan

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In Richmond, the McDonnell administration is developing a plan to overhaul the way Virginia treats people with severe mental and physical disabilities. It's an effort that will take years and cost millions.

Over the next two months, the state will develop recommendations about how to spend $30 million lawmakers set aside to improve care for Virginians with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Lawmakers approved the money to ease pressure from the federal government. Everyone agrees it will go a long way toward improving care, but it still might not be enough.

State Senator Edd Houck (D) said, "We really don't know the extent that that $30 million will meet the demand or not."

The legislature approved the money as part of this year's budget to respond to a scathing federal report. It urged the state to close institution facilities and focus on community-based care.

The legislature has pushed a switch toward community care for several years now.

"We need to continue the path that we've already been on," said Houck.

The federal report is accelerating that process. This summer, the state has heard from hundreds of parents and caregivers about the changes.

"This is a very emotional subject for many reasons," said Virginia Deputy Secretary of Health Keith Hare.

The administration says it's committed to finding the right treatments in the right settings for as many people as possible, but that will take time and perhaps more money.

"I think it's way too early in the budget process now to speculate on if there will be additional funds," Hare stated.

Lawmakers say that another variable in all this is the possible spending cuts from Washington. Federal funds play a role in this and so major cuts there, could affect Virginia too.