Treatment center for elderly in limbo after losing funding

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — A treatment center for elderly people with special needs in Williamsburg is in limbo.

Since 10 On Your Side received an anonymous letter with serious concerns, we’ve been working to get answers about what’s going on at Eastern State Hospital’s Hancock Geriatric Unit. Here’s what we’ve learned.

After about four decades, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services no longer believes the Hancock Geriatric Treatment Center in Williamsburg meets the definition of a nursing facility. So those funds are drying up.

10 On Your Side wanted to know what that means for the people depending on care there? A representative with the State Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services sent us the following statement, saying that the federal government is incentivizing serving people in smaller, more integrated settings rather than in institutions.

DBHDS’s current focus, has been and will continue to be on the care and safety of this very complex and vulnerable population. DBHDS considers it essential to that process to involve the local providers in the assessment of provider capacity and development of a care model…While DBHDS supports the goals of recovery-oriented, community-based care, the acceleration of this issue is unexpected and challenging.

WAVY.com sat down with Chuck Hall to get an explanation. He’s the executive director of the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board, which is also affected by the decision. 10 On Your Side learned this center is just the first of three similar facilities in Virginia that will now undergo major change.

“We had a meeting as late as yesterday, and we were told that the unit is not closing,” Hall said. “What rattled all of us in the beginning was the rather abrupt announcement that admission was stopping. Community-based care needs to be ramped up before we downsize state facilities.”

In a sense, it’s like the cart was put before the horse, but if the federal government is pushing states, like Virginia, to come up with alternatives to treating people with mental illness, that’s just what will have to be done. And Hall said a plan is in the works. The question is: will funding come with the push?

Hall said hundreds of people will be affected by all of this. If they can get the funding from the general assembly, the nine community services boards in our region would like to create geriatric psychiatric teams to go into nursing homes and work with individuals that would have been referred to Hancock. They’ll also be proposing behavioral health homes for the elderly.

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