By Kim Walter
As a result of decreased federal and state funding, the Virginia Department of Health will be closing a number of Child Development Centers, including the facility in Winchester.
The Child Development Clinic of Northwest Virginia, located at 10 Baker St., serves children in the Lord Fairfax Health District. The clinic provides assessment, referral and follow-up for children who might have developmental or behavioral disorders.
While the clinic will continue seeing children who are scheduled until May 24, any appointments scheduled for a later date will take place at the Shenandoah Valley Child Development Clinic at James Madison University in Harrisonburg.
Charles Devine, director of the local health district, said the development center program began about 50 years ago, but has seen a number of changes in the last 10 years.
Recently, child development centers across the state have been using a "hybrid model" in dealing with patients, he said. While some locations are owned and operated by the health department, others are operated by private entities.
Devine said both federal and state funds have decreased to the point that they can no longer support the centers. However, this doesn't mean that the number of evaluated children will decrease.
"In order to actually increase the number of children who can be served, upper management decided that the private contractors were more efficient," he said Monday. "This is the way, at best cost, that will ensure services to the maximum amount of children."
The shift to the Harrisonburg location won't require a huge increase in travel time for children and their families. Devine said typically a child will go to the clinic for day-long evaluation with doctors, nurses, psychologists, and education consultants, among others. After a few weeks, they will return for the report and recommendation for treatment if it's needed.
Devine said the area is lucky in that the JMU clinic is the first location to be contracted by the state and provide the services.
"In that respect, JMU has the most experience with this work," he said.
However, Devine recognizes that the change will mean a further trip for a number of families - even if it only has to happen twice.
"There's certainly a concern there, especially for families in the northern part of our health district," he said. "The driving is a significant investment."
The JMU clinic will officially pick up the expanded coverage area at the beginning of July. Devine said the shift is what families can expect to see throughout Virginia.
"The plan is to transition completely into a private contractor system, but that's hasn't quite been accomplished yet," he said.
The staff at the Winchester location likely will be able to find other jobs within the state health department, he added.
Even though Devine said he understands the reasoning behind the facility's closing, he still called it a painful decision.
"I see why it's happening ... the state, over the last 10 years, has learned that the same amount of money spread through the contractors would enable them to serve more clients than if they tried to fully maintain the centers on their own," he said. "But I'm personally saddened."
The state will continue to monitor certain parts of the clinics once they go to private contractors, Devine said, including access for all children. He said the current location evaluated children with or without insurance, so that would remain a priority for the Virginia Department of Health. Additionally, the quality of assessment will be monitored by the state, but the actual process may vary slightly from clinic to clinic.
Devine said he's "horribly sorry" that the Winchester clinic will close. He said some employees have been working for the Child Development Clinic for at least 20 years.
"I'm very proud of the work that has been done there," he said. "The general quality of the evaluating was excellent, but the people there serve on various boards and just bring so much to the community that isn't part of their jobs."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org