Delegates Annie B. Crockett-Stark (Sixth District) and Israel O’Quinn (Fifth District), along with Republican Nominee for Delegate in the Sixth District, Jeff Campbell, released the following statement after their visit to the Southwestern Virginia Training Center in Hillsville, Virginia.
“I have been working on this issue since the closure was announced,” Delegate O’Quinn stated. “The Training Center is crucial for Southwest Virginia and I look forward to adding Jeff Campbell as a working partner on this important effort. I understand the angst on the part of the families, residents and employees and we will pursue every possible avenue to keep the Training Center open.”
“Southwest Virginia Training Center is such a beautiful facility with dedicated caretakers,” Crockett-Stark stated. “The community is home for many of the people who live there. It needs to stay open permanently.”
The Southwestern Virginia Training Center provides care for people with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. As part of an agreement reached between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the U.S. Department of Justice, the Southwestern Virginia Training Center in Hillsville is set to close by June 30, 2018.
“I was honored to join Delegates Annie B. Crockett-Stark and Israel O’Quinn in a meeting and tour with Southwestern Virginia Training Center Director Dennis Shrewsberry,” Campbell said. “These delegates have advocated in the House of Delegates to protect this training center and preserve nearly 500 jobs in Southwest Virginia. It is important to our region, economic development and the facility’s employees, residents and their families to keep this training center open. As your next delegate, I pledge to join my colleagues in the effort of making this possibility a reality come January.”
Delegate Israel O’Quinn represents the Fifth District which includes the cities of Bristol and Galax, Grayson County, and portions of Washington and Smyth Counties. Delegate Annie B. Crockett-Stark currently represents the Sixth District, which includes Carroll and Wythe Counties as well as parts of Smyth County and is retiring after the end of this term.
Campbell is the former Mayor of Saltville and the Republican Nominee for Delegate in District 6. Campbell currently operates a law practice in Marion, Virginia. He lives in Saltville with his wife Carie and their four children.
Campbell said he has worked with clients and parties for the Training Center in the past through his capacity as Attorney for Social Services in Smyth County, but he had never had the opportunity to visit the facility until last week.
“I was just very impressed. As far as a residential facilities goes, it is just class A,” Campbell said. “Everything is spic and span, well-manicured, well-planned and well-organized.”
Campbell believes it is not too late to save the Southwestern Virginia Training Center, but he realizes it is going to be an uphill battle.
“It is not going to be simply a legislative decision. A vote by the House of Delegates isn’t going to be enough because you also have the federal government involved,” Campbell said. “There is a settlement in place for closure, and that is the parameters anyone is operating under to try to save it. It will require the Department of Justice to sign off on any modifications. I would hope there would be some ability to gain approval if a retooling of the facility and reprogramming of the facility could be had, that the Department of Justice could be amenable to modifying the settlement agreement. But that is not going to come without an extreme allocation by the Commonwealth.”
Campbell said the bill proposed last session by Crockett-Stark and O’Quinn only contemplates keeping the local training center open. That will be a tough sell, he said, when there are other training centers in the state also set to close.
“And that is only one factor in it. You still have to gain approvals by the Department of Justice and ultimately get a bill through the House and Senate, and get a signature by the Governor. It is not an impossible process – I don’t want to represent that it is - but it is something we are committed to try to keep open,” Campbell said. “It won’t be an overnight proposition and it won’t be an easy proposition. It is a complicated process, a serious matter and serious undertaking. I think it can be saved but it will require a lot of legwork to do it.”
Campbell said the discussions he, O’Quinn and Crockett-Stark had while at the Southwestern Virginia Training Center were not so much about saving the facility, but gauging what employees did for residents on a daily basis and the programs they offer. Campbell said he was blown away with the feedback he received while in Carroll County.
“I was extremely impressed with the professionalism of the employees there. They obviously are in an extremely difficult position going forward. Many are not of retirement age and are facing a big transition, but it was amazing how dedicated they are to assisting and protecting some of our most vulnerable citizens despite what they might be facing in their own careers,” Campbell said. “These people know the term of their jobs right now is limited but it doesn’t appear to be affecting their ability to carry out their abilities.”
Campbell said he knows the policy and ideology of the Department of Justice is that residents of training centers need to be programmed and reintegrated into the community. In some cases that is possible, but in others it is simply not realistic, he said.
“I understand the federal government a lot of times tries to cut with a broad swath and they think one ideology applies across the board. I don’t think that is reality here,” Campbell said. “I do think because of that there is some ability to be able to gain approval through the Department of Justice to be able to retool the settlement agreement to some degree. I think it can be saved and I am committed to working in every aspect to make that happen, but I don’t want to give a false impression it is going to be an easy proposition. It’s not slated for closure until 2018, and I think it would take work every day up until that time to make any other reality happen.”