Community backs effort to localize child services

By Kim Walter

A group of concerned parents and officials is making progress toward bringing services back to the area that were previously offered at the Child Development Clinic in Winchester.

The clinic, which closed on July 1, conducted full-scale, affordable and reliable evaluations for special needs children from surrounding areas, including Winchester and Clarke, Frederick, Warren and Shenandoah counties. The evaluation results would often lead to a child being referred for treatment, or the ability to receive Intellectually Disabled and Developmentally Disabled waivers.

The Winchester clinic wasn’t the only facility to be shut down — a number of local facilities throughout the state closed as the Virginia Department of Health tried to cut spending. The health department claimed that more children would receive services if the clinics were consolidated and moved to a private contractor model.

Families that would have gone to the local clinic now have to travel to James Madison University in Harrisonburg. Due to an overwhelming case load, many children are being put on a wait list.

Prior to its closure, the Winchester clinic had 14 children scheduled for evaluations during the month of July. The clinic in Harrisonburg has seven local children scheduled for the month.

Jack Starry of Boyce is leading the fight to keep services local. His son, who has autism, received services last summer from the Winchester clinic. The entire process to get his son evaluated and then learn results took about three months, and didn’t require the working father to take time off work.

Starry said he worries that other working parents won’t have the same pleasant experience as they could travel around 80 miles to get to Harrisonburg.

After starting a petition to keep services local, Starry has gained the attention of Sen. Jill Vogel, the state health department and local health officials.

Last week, a meeting was held on the topic. Starry said the turnout included other parents and “important members of the special needs community,” including former employees of the Winchester CDC, the Lord Fairfax Health District, Winchester Public Schools, Healthy Families and the Northern Shenandoah Valley Autism Resource.

Starry said one major development on the issue was the Northwestern Community Services offering to donate space for evaluations in its Front Royal office.

Northwestern Community Services offers an array of outpatient, case management, day support, residential and emergency programs that are designed to enhance the quality of life for both children and adults affected by emotional/behavioral disorders, mental illness, substance use, and mental retardation and developmental disabilities.

The group of concerned residents, which has met several times over the past month and a half, also organized itself. Starry said the group is to be called the Northern Shenandoah Valley Save Our Services organization. He was elected chairman.

Starry said since space is officially available, a few other topics need to be discussed to get the operation up and running.

One step, he added, is getting representatives of the Harrisonburg clinic to an upcoming meeting, whether it be by videoconference or otherwise.

“That brings up an interesting point,” Starry said. “If someone from the Harrisonburg clinic doesn’t want to travel to Winchester, why should a family with a special needs child have to travel there?”

Starry said his hope is to get back the $310,000 that funded the Winchester clinic, and rehire its staff. The space in Front Royal would be rent free, which already saves about $42,000.

“We need to find out where all that money went, and get as much as we can to keep the services local,” he said. “Maybe that means bringing the JMU folks here five days a week, or maybe we can get the staff who already has experience with local needs … I think we’ll be happy with whatever we can get at this point.”

The organization is holding a meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at 10 Baker St. (the former Winchester CDC location). Starry said he hopes to have present a representative from Vogel’s office, as well as the JMU clinic and the state health department.

“We’re really going to work to fine tune all the points we’re trying to make,” he said. “But this isn’t just for officials. I’d love to see any member of this community who thinks they might have something to offer.”

For updates on the newly formed organization, check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/#!/NSVSOS.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com